Mentor-Connect journey begins for 23 colleges

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Mentor-Connect leaders welcomed 23 college teams from 13 states as they launched support of a ninth cohort of mentee colleges during a virtual meeting this month.

“I applaud your decision to be here, and to embark on the journey that can lead to NSF ATE funding,” Mentor-Connect Principal Investigator Elaine Craft said at the December 2 meeting. 

Two-year college faculty teams must submit applications to Mentor-Connect, which requires that colleges commit to working with a mentor for nine months before submitting a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program in October.

“We have determined that preparing a competitive ATE proposal is not unlike birthing a baby. It takes about nine months to get it right!” Craft said with a laugh.    

Community college STEM faculty members, grant writers and administrators were among the 99 people who joined the hour-long introduction to Mentor-Connect’s research-informed process for helping faculty learn to prepare competitive grant proposals.

A little extra time

Craft noted that Mentor-Connect is beginning its work with teams a little earlier than usual to compensate for Covid-related precautions that will make it impossible for Mentor-Connect to hold its three-day, in-person winter workshop. 

Speakers at the December meeting provided overviews of the ATE solicitation, NSF expectations and logic models. These topics are typically covered in the first hour of the winter workshop. Over the next few weeks, mentors will begin meeting virtually with their mentee teams to review their institutional data and preliminary ideas for grant proposals. From February 10-12, Mentor-Connect will convene 12 hours of virtual meetings for in-depth grant-writing instruction. 

Mentor-Connect is a leadership development and outreach initiative that has been funded with ATE grants to Florence-Darlington Technical College (South Carolina). Since it started in 2012, Mentor-Connect has made significant progress in its goal of broadening geographic and demographic participation in the ATE program. Eighty-five of the 142 colleges in its first seven cohorts have received New-to-ATE grants for a 74% funding rate. There were 22 colleges in Cohort 8; 18 submitted ATE proposals to NSF in October 2020. NSF’s review process takes several months.    

A partnerships with AACC

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is a partner in Mentor-Connect’s development of a regenerative cycle for building leadership capacity among STEM faculty at two-year colleges. 

“What we will teach you is not just for your first NSF ATE grant. We want to inspire, energize and prepare you for a long relationship with the NSF ATE program and for subsequent grant awards. What you learn over the next year is transferrable to other NSF funding opportunities. And you will also learn how to design good projects that can lead to funding from other sources,” said Ellen Hause, program director for academic and student affairs at AACC.

Hause went on to explain, “From now until the grant submission deadline next fall, we will teach you grant submission strategies, and simultaneously your mentor will guide you through proposal writing and submission. Throughout this process you will be learning and practicing skills that will develop you as a leader. And after your proposal is submitted, we will guide you through the NSF funding process and provide technical support as you begin implementing your newly funded project. We are also on-call to answer questions about project implementation. So your growth as a leader will jump exponentially as you implement your first ATE project.” 

In addition to its work with faculty who are new to the ATE program, Mentor-Connect also offers the Mentor Fellows program. These one-year fellowships provide professional development to cultivate the mentoring and leadership skills of ATE principal investigators. The mentors for Cohort 9 include six community college educators who were Mentor Fellows; three of whom began their involvement in the ATE program as Mentor-Connect mentees.  

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.