20 Years of Innovation

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Liz & Gerhard

Welcome to the ATE@20 blog.

Our blog celebrates the 20 years of innovations and other accomplishments that the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program has generated at community colleges, secondary schools, and universities around the nation. We have several ambitions for the blog.

By telling ATE's success stories we hope to inform educators, students, parents, and industry partners about the ATE program and expand the ATE community's robust partnerships. The blog is available for ATE centers and projects to use on their websites and in their newsletters.

By utilizing the blog's interactivity, ATE Central hopes to gather information for the ATE@20 book it is publishing this fall. We hope this interactivity enhances the collaborations that have been a hallmark of the ATE program since it began.

The launch of ATE@20 comes 20 years after NSF began planning the Advanced Technological Education program. ATE itself was an innovation for the National Science Foundation, though one Congress asked NSF to create rather than one NSF sought.

A Little History to Start

This first blog entry provides a brief summary of the ATE program's early history. The backstory focuses on the involvement of Gerhard Salinger and Elizabeth Teles in shaping the program that has become the National Science Foundation's largest investment in community colleges.

Congress passed the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act known by its acronym, SATA in October 1992. President George H.W. Bush signed the legislation on October 23, making it Public Law 102-476. Its sponsors included North Carolina Congressman David Price and Maryland Senator Barbara A. Mikulski. Price, a Duke University political science professor before his election to Congress, wanted the NSF to support workforce issues in a way that complemented Department of Education tech-prep activities and Department of Labor short-term training. Mikulski, a social worker before she began her political career on Baltimore's City Council, wanted government investments in high tech fields to include economic development for diverse populations.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), then known as the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, had lobbied Congress for years to get NSF to pay more attention to community colleges. Then, as now, community colleges educated nearly half of the nation's undergraduates. AACC had involved professional societies in its effort to obtain federal help to improve math and science programs at two-year colleges. Meetings of experts were convened and reports issued. Perhaps the most important of the various meetings on the subject was the Workshop on Science, Engineering and Mathematics Education that NSF convened May 13 and 14, 1991. The report from this workshop, Matching Actions and Challenges, influenced several people who later shaped the ATE program.

Teles' and Salinger's First Collaboration: Explain Why NSF Did Not a Need Technician Education Program

SATA was one of the first mandates Congress ever gave to NSF; normally NSF tells Congress what it wants to do.

Luther S. Williams, then assistant director of Education and Human Resources Directorate at NSF, was "peeved" that Congress was telling NSF what to do, according to Gerhard Salinger. Salinger, an NSF program director, went on to serve as co-lead of the ATE program from 1993 to 2012. He currently works part time at NSF as an intermittent expert.

Elizabeth J. Teles, the co-lead of the ATE program from 1993 to 2009, said Williams was not unwilling to work with community colleges on technician education. He simply did not want "set asides" for programs that did not lead to degrees or that duplicated other federal programs.

Salinger's and Teles' memories of the pre-history of ATE are important because the two of them provided Williams with "talking points" about SATA when it was under consideration by Congress. Teles got the "talking points" assignment on her first day as one of seven community college educators who started as fellows at the NSF in the fall of 1991.

"I got there on a Monday and my boss, Bob Watson, says 'We hear Congress is trying to pass a bill.' And they gave me an outline of what it was," Teles said in a recent interview.

Watson, division director of Undergraduate Education, was one of the few people at NSF who had personal experiences with community colleges. His daughter was a student at Montgomery College, where Teles was on leave from the math faculty, and his wife had taken classes there. As a chemist he had had first-hand experience working with lab technicians.

"Bob was very good at reading where things were likely to go," said Duncan McBride, whose work as an NSF program director precedes the ATE program. Watson included community college presidents like Palomar Community College District's George R. Boggs (who would later lead AACC) on NSF advisory committees. He also approved funding for workshops on community college math and science programs.

On Teles' first day at NSF, Watson also explained that because Congress wanted high schools and community colleges to work together on technician education, Gerhard Salinger would be helping her. He was a program director in the Division of Materials Development Research and Informal Science Education, who a few years earlier had examined what NSF could do for students in high school technology programs.

Teles and Salinger met the next day and immediately connected. Their working partnership as the co-leads of ATE for 15 years was incredibly effective. However, their first joint assignment in 1991 did not have the intended outcome.

"Liz failed miserably," Salinger said, chuckling a little, in a recent interview.

When Williams testified before the House Subcommittee on Technology and Competitiveness on September 17, 1991, he expressed concern that the proposed legislation's focus on technician education was too narrow. He said the agency's resources would be better spent on improving students' general technical skills, and suggested that additional funds for two-year college technician education programs go through existing NSF programs.

Congress was not persuaded that a new technician education program was not needed. That, however, was more due to NSF's grants to two-year colleges amounting to just $300,000 in 1991 than to Williams' talking points.

How Williams fared on Capitol Hill did not diminish what Teles gained from that first assignment. Though she didn't know it at the time, what Salinger jokingly refers to as her failure actually set the stage for a whole new career path for Teles.

"For me it was wonderful because I met Gerhard and we kind of had a common vision or at least complementary visions of where this should go. And we worked on it together," she said. For that first assignment she learned about every NSF program that had or could have had a two-year college component. During the rest of the fellowship she had the opportunity to think about what else NSF could do for two-year colleges.

In 1993 when she, Salinger, Watson, and the other program officers at NSF began shaping the program in response to SATA, Teles incorporated the best features of the NSF programs she learned about in her first days at NSF into what became the ATE program. NSF, in cooperation with AACC, held 13 regional workshops to inform community college educators about ATE and encourage quality proposals. A critical issues workshop on science and engineering technician education that NSF hosted with the American Chemical Society and the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology offered strategies to strengthen technician education programs at two-year colleges. The report of this workshop entitled, Gaining the Competitive Edge, laid much of the groundwork for the ATE program.

Earlier ATE Groundwork

The group of NSF program directors also considered the recommendations of the Matching Actions and Challenges report from the Workshop on Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Education in Two-Year Colleges convened by NSF in May 1991. Teles was one of 63 workshop participants. She was then a member of Montgomery College's math faculty and chair of the Mathematical Association of America's Committee on Two-Year Colleges. Salinger was one of six NSF staff members in attendance. Another participant was David R. Pierce. He was chancellor of the Virginia Community College System and later that year became chief executive officer of AACC. Since 1994, AACC has convened the annual conference of ATE principal investigators with NSF support.

The recommendations in the Matching Actions and Challenges and Gaining the Competitive Edge reports are still evident in the ATE program solicitation. The 1991 report called on community college faculty "to take leadership roles in improving science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education at all levels." The report also encouraged NSF to expand is faculty enhancement programs for two-year colleges and to support the development of curricula to meet the needs of increasingly diverse students.

The sections in the Gaining the Competitive Edge report were closely aligned with the SATA bill and included recommendations on professional development for community college faculty and high school teachers, pathways from secondary schools to two-year colleges and two-year colleges to four-year institutions, curriculum that included not only technical courses but also core mathematics and science courses, collaborations with business and industry, and recruiting and retaining students. This report along with the SATA bill greatly influenced the first ATE program announcement.

One of the immediate outcomes of the 1991 workshop was NSF's funding of AACC for a community college fellowship program. It placed Teles and six other community college educators as fellows at the NSF a few months later.

"We were brought in without really knowing what we were going to do. Nevertheless, seven of us showed up there," Teles said.

The thousands of people who have benefited from the ATE program during the past 20 years are certainly glad that the seven did show up and that Teles carried out her first assignment so thoroughly.

    ATE Impacts

Last Edited: September 22nd, 2022 at 3:32pm by Madeline Patton

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