When Douglas B. Hamm applied to MentorLinks, he hoped it would improve Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) faculty and staff members’ understanding of National Science Foundation (NSF) resources and lead to better connections with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
Since its first MentorLinks meeting in October 2019, the Wisconsin college has:
- Grown College Here & Now, the dual-enrollment program it expanded with MentorLinks support from two rural Wisconsin high schools to eight with significant rosters of male and female students.
- Received its first NSF grants, which it is using to start a cybersecurity education program and expand its renewable energy offerings.
- Benefited from the professional growth of Sarah M. Bornemann, the faculty member on LTC’s MentorLinks team. Her outstanding work on MentorLinks, in the classroom and other LTC projects led to her receiving AACC’s Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty Recognition in 2022.
AACC uses Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant support from NSF for MentorLinks. This AACC initiative helps community college teams start or enhance technician education programs in advanced technology fields. The community colleges that AACC selects to participate in MentorLinks receive mentoring over two years from a community college educator with expertise in STEM program development, plus $20,000, technical advice, and travel support for professional development.
Bornemann and Hamm say MentorLinks’ value far exceeds the $20,000 it provides to the selected colleges.
Editor’s note: This article continues a series exploring how various community colleges have leveraged the National Science Foundation-funded MentorLinks program, which the American Association of Community Colleges manages, to strengthen their programming in STEM-related fields. The application for the next MentorLinks cohort opens in April.
“It opens up so many more possibilities of what our college could be doing from what other colleges are doing and other grants that are available,” Bornemann said.
Hamm, who is dean of business and technology at LTC, puts it this way: “If given the opportunity to do it again, we would certainly do it with no hesitation. It’s been extremely beneficial. In fact, the returns on our investment of time have been exponential.”
Recruiting more females
Initially, LTC’s MentorLinks project focused on increasing female enrollment in the information technology (IT) program, which Hamm reported “had a female student ratio smaller than desired.”
When the college launched College Here & Now, the dual-enrollment program, in fall 2019, it had 13 female and 92 male students at Sheboygan North and Sheboygan South high schools. The traditional collegiate program had no female students that year, which Hamm calls “an historic anomaly.”
When Hamm and Bornemann met Ann Beheler, their MentorLinks mentor, at the in-person MentorLinks meeting in 2019, she suggested several individuals for them to talk with for help recruiting female students, pointed them toward resources for recruiting women and encouraged them to find local partners for their initiative. Beheler is the principal investigator of the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC), an ATE center at Collin College in Frisco, Texas.
In addition to making contacts at the 2019 ATE Principal Investigators’ Conference, which they and the other mentees attended immediately after their two-day MentorLinks meetings, Bornemann and Hamm connected with Inspire Sheboygan when they returned to campus. It is a nonprofit organization that offers Sheboygan, Wisconsin, teenagers co-op and job shadowing experiences to inform their career decisions. LTC used the organization’s model for high school visits, and when Covid eliminated in-person recruitment, the college conducted virtual open houses with Inspire Sheyboygan.
This partnership — and the fact that LTC had offered the web and software developer courses entirely online for years to adult students — helped College Here & Now enrollments grow despite Covid. In fall 2021, the program had 28 female students and 138 male students from high schools in the rural county it serves.
“I think it was because we tapped into this market at a time when a lot of students and parents were looking for college credits,” Hamm said. The flexible arrangement of the program allows students to attend the pre-recorded lectures or drop into live virtual class sessions.
This spring, two College Here & Now students completed IT-web and software developer associate degrees and technical diplomas in the IT-Web Development specialist program at the same time that they graduated from high school. Both are transferring to IT baccalaureate programs.
In fall 2022, LTC expanded College Here & Now to five more high schools.
Tapping the BILT model
Beheler’s advice and the people she connected Hamm and Bornemann with influenced the college’s development of two ATE grant proposals that were submitted in 2021 and awarded NSF funding last spring. The cybersecurity program (NSF Award 2201993), which will offer its first courses in the fall, and the renewable energy program (NSF Award 2201630) will both use business and industry leadership teams.
Beheler created the Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) model for involving industry partners as co-leaders of technician education programs after using this approach successfully at the CTC. BILT participants meet quarterly and work collaboratively with community college educators to determine the knowledge, skills and abilities covered in degree programs for entry-level technicians.
Hamm explained that LTC’s use of BILTs to plan the two new programs has engaged industry leaders who are helping the college determine what it needs to teach in three to five years. He refers to this as “knowledgeable clairvoyance” about industry trends.
“The BILT model really brings the talent in that is thinking in that same vein. So that’s a huge outcome from MentorLinks,” he said.
Inspiring and guiding future leaders
The most poignant transformation instigated by MentorLinks has been with Bornemann. She describes herself as an introvert who has worked at LTC for more than 20 years. Bornemann started taking classes at LTC when she was 19, and in 1999 she was hired as a student employee for the college’s help desk.
After completing her associate degree in 2001, she was hired as a full-time desktop-support team member. Eventually, she moved into data warehousing and business analysis positions followed by program analyst, application developer and then webmaster roles.
While working as a staff member, Bornemann earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Lakeland University. In 2015, LTC hired her as an information technology (IT) instructor.
She loves teaching. While she has told her students “that I’ve been where you are” to encourage them, Bornemann said, “I never saw myself as a kind of a leader or a kind of a mentor. I always looked toward others.”
MentorLinks changed that.
Her promotion to IT faculty leader occurred before MentorLinks, but it was interacting with Beheler – the first female IT professional Bornemann ever worked with on a regular basis – that lifted her aspirations.
“It’s cool to see a very intelligent, strong female that has taken an awesome role in leadership … Everybody looks to her for the resources. She knows people. She makes a big difference. Probably, the support and just inspiration from Ann, for me personally, has been really beneficial from MentorLinks,” Bornemann said.
Beheler has noticed similar transformations in other MentorLinks mentees over the many years she has been involved in the program.
Now, in addition to teaching students, Bornemann mentors a new LTC faculty member and four high school teachers who have taken the college’s IT web and software development courses. The high school teachers are using curriculum Bornemann created to teach the introductory IT courses at the high schools.
In 2021, she and Hamm also participated in the BILT Academy that Beheler leads with NSF support. The academy sessions focused on gathering information and working with industry partners on developing the cybersecurity degree program that the college is launching this fall. They shared what they learned with the LTC faculty team that developed the renewable energy ATE grant proposal.
Since 2019, Bornemann has excelled at making presentations, answering interviewers’ questions and managing her time. Her showcase presentations at the Bellwether College Consortium received an accolade last year. In the spring, she completed a master’s of business administration degree from Cappella University.
She credits Beheler’s nudges to continue her formal education with her decision to enroll in the master’s degree program and her current plan to pursue a doctorate.
“I don’t know what’s happened to me in the last couple years … Who knows how far it can go,” Bornemann said with a confident smile.