This month, Annette Parker began her duties as the new president of South Central College, a Minnesota State Community and Technical College (MnSCU) with campuses in Mankato and Faribault. The college emphasizes globalization and has partnerships with regional businesses and industries to offer students internships and employment.
As principal investigator and executive director of the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative (AMTEC) from 2007 until May, Parker brought competing automakers together with the United Autoworkers in collaborative relationships with community colleges in 12 states for the center that is part of the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education program. AMTEC and its partners have developed a modularized, hybrid online lecture and in-person lab curriculum designed to teach both students and incumbent workers the technical skills and critical-thinking skills required to succeed as a maintenance technician in advanced manufacturing.
The AMTEC partnership and the products it has developed have placed the AMTEC partner colleges at the forefront of mechatronics education.
In recommending Parker’s appointment, Steven Rosenstone, MnSCU chancellor, said, “Dr. Parker is a proven leader and recognized expert in technical and liberal arts education strategies in support of global industries. Coupled with her deep experience in engaging students and faculty, and creating partnerships with business and government officials, she is an outstanding choice to lead South Central College and serve our Faribault and Mankato communities.”
Clarence Hightower, chair of the MnSCU Board of Trustees, said, “Under Dr. Parker’s leadership, we can expect South Central College to continue its success in providing high-quality academic programs to students and helping to advance the global competiveness of our business and industry partners and the region.”
Parker earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Western Kentucky University while leading AMTEC and serving as a system director for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. She earned an associate's degree in industrial drafting from Lansing Community College, and a bachelor's degree in technical education and a master's degree in career and technical education from Ferris State University. She was a department chair at Lansing Community College prior to taking the helm at AMTEC.
As Parker embarked on her new job, she answered a few questions for ATE@20.
Q. Was your leadership of AMTEC a factor in attaining your new job? If so, how did it affect your selection?
A. Yes, my leadership with AMTEC was a definite factor in attaining my new job due to a few factors.
One factor is the way that the AMTEC collaboration was developed and maintained. The MnSCU chancellor and board of trustees recognized that the leader of an organization that keeps bringing competing corporations together for the common good would have skills that they desired of a new president in the system.
During a time of scarce resources higher education needs to be able to collaborate to ensure we are developing our future workforce and serving our local and regional communities. My experience as a National Science Foundation ATE Principal Investigator (PI) helped me to hone those skills, as ATE has been so successful in setting up mentoring and strong collegial relationships between a group of very strong ATE Regional and National Center PIs. The synergistic activities I engaged in with these leaders strengthened my collaboration skills, and the mentoring provided me with answers to questions when I was a new PI. I would like to thank the ATE PIs that mentored me.
Another factor was how AMTEC brought together competitors that not only worked together but developed strong personal friendships that extend beyond work. This has allowed AMTEC to impact positively the colleges, corporations, schools, and communities beyond the stated center goals in ways that are difficult to share. For example, recently the two women that were first involved with the AMTEC leadership, and myself spent a week in Florida to celebrate my presidency and our continued friendship now that none of us are involved in the day-to-day operation of AMTEC. We will do this annually. One of the women is now a contributing member of the AMTEC national visiting committee. The second woman has fulfilled her dream to be a high school math teacher, and is using the skills she learned in AMTEC to develop collaborations similar to AMTEC in her high school region. And I am beginning my first college presidency.
Being successful with dissemination of AMTEC activities gave me the exposure to national and international business and industry, and education leaders. These leaders could recognize the power of the process and findings of AMTEC, which shows how similar collaborations can be developed. My NSF program director, Gerhard Salinger, often encouraged me to speak about the findings of AMTEC, the good and the not so good. To be able to share those findings with others who want to advance technology education has been powerful and very useful for dissemination. This allowed me to gain access nationally and internationally. I have been invited to several countries with federal agencies such as the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Education, and the American Association of Community Colleges. Each time I traveled overseas the people I met there wanted to partner with AMTEC and/or develop similar strategies to prepare their workforce.
Q. How did you keep the competing automakers and suppliers, as well as the labor representatives, engaged in the development of AMTEC's curriculum?
A. I kept the companies in the room by simply taking the time to listen and listen deeply. After listening you have to take action in a way that they know you heard them. These three things developed a shared vision for the organization and a sense of ownership by each member of the team. They developed a "we" mentality that was sometimes so strong that it had to be managed for the good of all. Everyone trusted that I would listen. My relationships were so strong with members that I could tell when questions were not fully answered, and I could probe until I could move the objective forward. This was not always easy because sometimes others in the room felt we should move on, but I held fast until everyone's questions or concerns were met.
Q. How did you come to advise Hillary Clinton when she was at the U.S. State Department about workforce development in foreign countries? What did this entail?
A. In the summer of 2012, I was invited by the State Department and the U.S. Department of Education to attend a meeting with Secretary Clinton, and Assistant Secretary of Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier at the State Department. Secretary Clinton and the prime minister of India hosted the meeting with invited higher education leaders from both countries. It is my understanding that the Obama administration has a strong interest to ensure that the United States supports India in the development of strong community colleges as a matter of national security. As a result of sharing the work of AMTEC with the Indian delegation there was a request that I attend a meeting that was coordinated on our side by AACC. It was hosted by the Indian government in New Delhi, India, in February 2013. At this meeting I presented the AMTEC model to not only the Indians, but other participating countries including New Zealand, Germany, Canada, and Australia. I was asked to return to India with a delegation from AACC and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in June, but I was in transition into my new presidency and could not attend.
Q. Is there a particular message about the ATE program that you hope is conveyed in the ATE@20 book?
A. ATE is a precious jewel of the NSF and our country. If we are to remain competitive globally, the ATE program must remain strong and vibrant. In fact, the ATE impact is international because the United States is the beacon to the world.