ATE Impacts

NSF Releases New ATE Program Solicitation

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National Science Foundation seal

Exciting news - the newest ATE program solicitation is now available from the National Science Foundation! As most of us in the ATE community are well aware, the ATE program emphasizes the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economy, with special emphasis on two-year higher education institutions. Through partnerships among academic institutions and industry, ATE promotes improvement in the education of science and engineering technicians, including curriculum development, professional development, career pathways, and other activities.

The focus of the new solicitation is the same as it’s been in years past in that it provides funds to advance the knowledge base related to technician education. Projects and centers are expected to be faculty-driven and incorporate credit-bearing courses and programs, although materials developed through the program may also be used for incumbent worker education.

According to Dr. Celeste Carter, ATE’s Lead Program Director, “This new solicitation further strengthens the role of community and technical colleges in the ATE program and in the education of the skilled technical workforce.”

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COVID Pivots Extend the Reach of 2 Projects

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People become ATE principal investigators (PIs) because they are innovators. They are educators who have ideas to improve technician education and they have obtained funding from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program to test those ideas.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the creativity and stamina of ATE PIs not only sustained ATE initiatives, in many instances the way PIs responded to the public health crisis helped advance their ATE projects in new and interesting ways.

This blog features the work of Skilled Workers Get Jobs 2.1 and Smart Manufacturing for America’s Revolutionizing Technological Transformation (SMARTT). Both projects switched their professional development programs to virtual formats from in-person workshops with unexpectedly positive results.

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Preparing for the HI-TEC 2021 Virtual Conference

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HI-TEC 2021 Virtual logo

Always a popular event in the ATE community calendar, the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) is a national conference on advanced technological education where secondary and postsecondary educators, counselors, industry professionals, trade organizations, and technicians can update their knowledge and skills. Charged with preparing America’s skilled technical workforce, the event focuses on the preparation needed by the existing and future workforce for companies in the high-tech sectors that drive our nation’s economy. 

Due to public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, HI-TEC 2021 will be held virtually this year. The conference will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, July 21-22, starting at noon EDT. The virtual conference will feature live keynotes and panels, as well as a variety of  “on-demand” pre-recorded sessions which will be available for 6 months after the conference. Participants will need to register (either individually or as an institution) to access the live virtual sessions and “on-demand” content.

Highlights of this year’s event include keynote addresses, one on each day of the conference. The first keynote speaker is Mark Maybury, who as Chief Technology Officer from Stanley Black & Decker manages a team across the company’s businesses and functions and advises on technological threats and opportunities. The second speaker is Jessica Gomez, Founder, President, and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices who has gone on an inspiring journey from homeless teen to CEO of a microelectronics firm.

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Enrollment Grows during 2020-21 in Agriculture Science Program Started with ATE Support

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In-person classes in Allan Hancock College’s greenhouse and farm in fall 2020 helped grow ag science enrollments.

Enrollment in the agricultural science certificate and three agricultural degree programs – agricultural science, plant science, and agricultural business  – created with an ATE grant at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California, grew in the past year while community college enrollments in California and nationally decreased.

For example, the number of declared agricultural science majors increased from 109 students in 2018-2019 – the first year of the program – to 317 in 2019-2020. During 2019-2020, the headcount enrollment in agricultural science was 465, a 172% increase from the year before when the headcount, which includes non-majors, was 171.

During 2020-2021 – the year of COVID-19 restrictions – the headcount enrollment in agricultural science courses increased to 529 students. That was a 14% increase at a time when overall headcount at Allan Hancock College decreased by 8%. Enrollment at U.S. community colleges dropped 9.4% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“Anything agriculture happened as a direct result of the NSF ATE grant,” said Erin Krier, principal investigator of Creating Precision Agriculture and Crop Protection Pathways via Industry Partnerships (Award #1800889). Prior to Allan Hancock College receiving a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program, the Central Coast college had an established viticulture and enology degree program that focuses on wine-making. However, it had only a smattering of courses in other aspects of agriculture. And none of those courses led to agriculture-specific credentials. 

“That grant launched the whole program,” Krier said.

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Accessible Outreach Tips and Tools

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A man in a button-down shirt types on a laptop.

Many members of the ATE Community are aware of the importance of creating accessible content, but how can you put that knowledge to use when promoting your project or center's work? Here are some quick tips and tools to optimize your web presence, social media content, and presentation materials for accessibility:

Format materials with accessibility in mind from the start. 

Whether you are writing web content, making presentation slides, or creating an accessible PDF, consider the clarity and navigability of your outreach materials right from the start. To ensure that your written content is understandable to all, make sure text gets your point across in a concise way that is comprehensible to a general audience. Avoid using acronyms or jargon, unless you are writing for a particular audience who has familiarity with these terms.

Design elements can also aid in getting information across. When formatting text, avoid creating uneven spaces between letters. Be sure to choose fonts that are easily legible on screens, such as sans serif fonts, which are easier to read at both small and large sizes. When creating hyperlinks, use meaningful text that describes the content, rather than general phrasing like “click here.” Format web pages with a defined and consistent visual hierarchy, so that information is grouped in logical ways that visually cue your reader on the relationships between content and the order of importance. In addition to layout cues, add headings using standard HTML to make navigating your site easier for those using screen readers.

Many softwares and web platforms offer tools that aid in accessibility. For example, Microsoft PowerPoint offers existing presentation templates for creating navigable slides. Presenters can also set slide content order, so that audience members using screen readers can move through the slide in the intended progression. This video tutorial provides a helpful overview of how to design presentations with accessibility in mind.

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Mentor-Connect Mentee Selected for Space Mission

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Sian Proctor visits Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in advance of the Inspiration4 launch.

Sian Proctor, a geoscience professor for more than 20 years at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona, and current Mentor-Connect mentee, has been selected for Inspiration4. The three-day mission aboard a SpaceX rocket this autumn will be the first by an all-civilian crew of four.  

Proctor’s extraordinary resume of professional development and scientific explorations includes participating in Integrated Geospatial Education and Technology Training (iGETT), an Advanced Technological Education project funded in 2007 and 2012 by the National Science Foundation that was led by Osa Brand. Brand is currently a Mentor-Connect mentor and senior member of Mentor-Connect’s leadership team. Mentor-Connect is an ATE project led by Florence-Darlington Technical College in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges.

Brand remembers Proctor from iGETT as “extremely capable, [She] showed very strong leadership qualities and was the kind of person who would brighten up a room as soon as she walked in.”

Ann Johnson, who was a co-principal investigator of iGETT and is now mentoring South Mountain Community College’s Mentor-Connect team, said Proctor was vying to become a NASA astronaut around the time that she was participating in iGETT. Proctor made it to NASA’s finalist round in 2009. 

“It’s wonderful that it’s a lifelong dream come true,” of Proctor’s selection by Inspiration4.

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From the Archive: Summer Camp Programs in ATE

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A group of students and teacher conduct an experiment.

With the end of the semester just a few short weeks away, some in the ATE community may already be looking toward summer. Traditionally a time for camps, bridge programs, summer internships, faculty training opportunities, and an assortment of other curricular activities, this year’s programming may still be somewhat different from summers past. Nonetheless, programs are moving forward, whether online or in person, and many aspects–from planning to outreach, registration to evaluation–may well be much the same. 

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3 Free Algebra Games Show Students How Appealing Math Is

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xPonum is a puzzle game that teaches algebraic concepts.

Borough of Manhattan Community College Mathematics Professor Kathleen Offenholley is a math games maven. She sees art and playfulness in math and has long used hands-on games of her own creation in her courses as a vehicle to raise students’ interest in math.

“I find that especially for anxious students, games can take students out of their anxiety,” she said.

Educators can now access the three open-source digital games at Math Games for STEM, which she worked with professional game developers to create for the gatekeeper algebra course that STEM majors take at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

The games are xPonum – a puzzle game; Algebots – an equation-solving game; and The Project Sampson – an adventure and resource management game.  “In all three, the math is intrinsic to the puzzle,” Offenholley said. Download the free games and educator guides at https://mathgamesforstem.wordpress.com/

Offenholley said the games were extremely effective when tested in a summer immersion program for in-coming geographic information systems (GIS) majors, who were the focus of her ATE project: Simulation-Based Curriculum to Accelerate Math Remediation and Improve Degree Completion for STEM Majors (Award # 1501499). The free algebra textbook that she and colleagues also developed for this project is at math56oer.wordpress.com.

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Sustainability in the ATE Community: An Interview with Nancy Maron of BlueSky to BluePrint

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Image of Nancy Maron

For those of us in the ATE community sustainability is a topic woven into our projects and centers from the start. Anyone who writes an ATE proposal has to include a section about how they hope to sustain at least some portion of their activities and resources. As work progresses, the PI and team considers how best to sustain project or center deliverables—a summer institute, industry tours, a faculty professional development series—beyond NSF funding. Particularly for those new to ATE, the concept of sustainability can be a bit confusing and feel like a daunting task. Thankfully there are ATE peers and outside experts who can help all of us think through strategies and lean on practices that have been successful for others. 

Nancy Maron, founder of BlueSky to BluePrint, has been working with ATE Central and the ATE community for almost a decade, providing guidance and support in this critical area. Nancy always has great advice and thoughtful examples of sustainability from those in, and beyond, ATE. Recently Nancy was kind enough to answer a few questions about her own background and provide some thoughts on sustainability.

ATE Central: Can you tell us a bit about your own background and work and how you came to launch your business BlueSky to BluePrint?

Maron: The idea for my company evolved over time, as my professional interests drew me into fields that to an outsider might not seem related! I started off in trade publishing, as a marketing and salesperson back when the national chains were just taking hold, so I got to learn the nuts and bolts of how sales and distribution channels work. I continued studying “cultural diffusion” in graduate school, by exploring the early years of mass media culture in France. When I returned to publishing, I wanted to be somewhere where I could see and understand the big picture of the digital transformations taking hold, and the not-for-profit think-tank Ithaka S+R (parent organization of JSTOR) was the perfect place to pursue those interests. While there, I led several research projects focused specifically on understanding how innovative digital initiatives in the academic and cultural sectors have found creative ways develop and grow beyond their initial grant funding.

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Researchers Examine Economic Impact of ATE

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The Hidden Innovation Infrastructure conceptual model  maps how ATE initiatives flow into economic development.

Rutgers University researchers are examining the economic impact of the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program in a multi-year study that eschews the usual metrics of return-on-investment calculations and student completion data. 

Instead, as Michelle Van Noy, the principal investigator of The Hidden Innovation Infrastructure project explained in a recent interview, researchers are scanning the entire ATE program for economic development activities and taking a close look at community colleges’ ATE initiatives, the “innovation ecosystem or infrastructure” that ATE grants influence, and the interactions of ATE centers and projects with regional labor markets.

Van Noy, an assistant research professor and associate director of Education and Employment Research Center (EERC) at Rutgers in New Jersey, said the research project was planned before COVID, but that she hopes the findings will assist colleges deal with imperatives triggered by the pandemic. “I think the role for community colleges—in terms of economic development—is even more important now and being that anchor in the community that can spur job development, and create resilience and create innovation,” she said.

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