Broadening the Mentor-Connect opportunity


Mentor-Connect is opening its mentoring services to two-year college STEM faculty members who have not previously received a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program.

In the past, the Mentor-Connect mentoring opportunity that includes grant development instruction workshops was only available to faculty whose colleges are eligible for small grants for institutions new to ATE.

“Mentor-Connect’s goal is to provide training, mentoring and technical assistance to as many technician educators and associated STEM faculty members as possible,” says Elaine Craft, principal investigator of Mentor-Connect. “Associated faculty may be instructors in mathematics or physics or some other discipline that supports technician education programs.”

Faculty interested in applying to join Mentor-Connect’s 10th cohort – which will receive mentoring and technical support from January through September 2022 – are encouraged to attend an orientation webinar on September 8. The webinar will feature an overview of the ATE program provided by V. Celeste Carter, lead program director. The session also will explain Mentor-Connect’s services and share some general grant-writing tips. Register today.

Applications for the New-to-ATE Two-Year STEM Faculty Mentorship are due October 8. Selected faculty will be notified November 5.    

Better prepared for success

The American Association of Community Colleges is a partner of Mentor-Connect, which is an ATE project hosted by Florence-Darlington Technical College (South Carolina). Mentor-Connect mentors are experienced ATE principal investigators who provide one-on-one mentoring to faculty-led college teams while they prepare ATE grant proposals.

The ATE program is the largest two-year college initiative in NSF’s portfolio. According to the program solicitation, NSF plans to award $69 million in new awards during fiscal year 2022 to support “the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economy.”

In the past, Mentor-Connect services were limited to two-year colleges that were new to ATE and eligible to apply for support in the ATE program track Small Projects for Institutions New to ATE.

The change in Mentor-Connect’s eligibility criteria for its mentees means that any STEM instructor involved in technician preparation who has not had an ATE grant is eligible to receive Mentor-Connect mentoring. This is the case even if other faculty members at his or her college have active ATE grants, or if the community or technical college where they work has had an ATE grant in the past seven years and thus is not eligible for a small grant for institutions new to ATE.

Since 2012, Mentor-Connect has provided cohort mentoring to teams from 185 colleges from 41 state and two U.S. territories.

“What we’ve discovered is that those faculty who have been through some preparation, who understand the [ATE] program, its funding priorities and the mechanics of proposal development are far more successful in this program than those who have not had this preparation,” Craft says.

Craft explains that mentees from colleges that have had ATE grants will receive special instruction to prepare grants in the ATE Projects Track. This track, which provides grants of up to $650,000 for as many as three years, is more competitive than small projects track because applicants include experienced ATE principal investigators from an array of higher education institutions and non-profit organizations.  

“If you are new, you are automatically at a disadvantage. By participating in Mentor-Connect for the training, which is learning about the proposals, the components, the expectations, what reviewers are looking for, that sort of thing, will help level that playing field,” Craft says. “Having a mentor that helps them along the pathway of preparing their proposal is another layer of support that helps keep them on track and on time and on target. The mentor is someone they can ask questions of and it’s just good support for them throughout the proposal development process.”

Formal and informal connections

Laurie Miller McNeill, director of institutional advancement at Westchester Community College (New York), praises Mentor-Connect’s methodical, holistic approach for building educators’ program development and leadership skills.

As a member of her college’s Mentor-Connect mentee team in 2017, Miller McNeill says she gained a network of “gracious colleagues” – faculty and staff from other mentee colleges and Mentor-Connect mentors and staff – that she interacted with during workshops. The Westchester team learned the nuances of the ATE program during the formal workshop presentations and informal conversations with their mentor, and by attending Mentor-Connect webinars, accessing online resources, and calling its help desk, she says.

“If your college offers STEM technical degrees – I want to strongly encourage you to reach out to your STEM faculty, learn about and consider applying for an NSF ATE grant and take advantage of Mentor-Connect as your guide not only to the proposal but to becoming part of the NSF ATE community. The NSF ATE space is one of the most creative, supportive and interesting groups of colleagues I’ve encountered in my community college work – and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience to be connected to this community,” Miller McNeill says. 

About the Author

Madeline Patton
Madeline Patton is an education writer based in Ohio.