Three members of the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) community received prestigious national awards this spring.
- V. Celeste Carter, lead program director of the ATE program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), received the Truman Award from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC);
- Marilyn Barger, formerly executive director of the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE) and currently the senior educational advisor to FLATE – which is sustaining its work as part of the FloridaMakes Network – was inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows; and
- Husam “Sam” Ajlani, associate professor and program manager of engineering technology
at the College of Central Florida, received the Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction from AACC.
Carter will be featured in this month’s blog post. Barger and Ajlani, who happen to be principal investigator (PI) and co-principal investigator respectively of the Industry 4.0 Skills for Manufacturing Technicians project, will be featured in the May 8th ATE Impacts Blog.
AACC selected Carter for the Truman Award in recognition of her commitment and positive impact on community colleges dating back to her role as a faculty member at Foothill College (Los Altos Hills, California), where she started the college’s biotechnology and bioinformatics programs, and for her service at the National Science Foundation.
In addition to leading an NSF-funded project at Foothill, Carter was a mentor in AACC’s MentorLinks program. MentorLinks receives ATE grant support to help community colleges develop or revamp advanced technology programs. Carter did two tours as a rotator or temporary program director at NSF during leaves from her Foothill teaching duties before joining the independent federal science agency full time in 2009 and becoming ATE’s lead program director.
Since 1982 AACC has given the Truman Award to individuals and organizations that have had major, positive impacts on community colleges. Previous recipients include Barack Obama, when he was president of the United States; Barbara Bush, when she was first lady; Michael R. Bloomberg, when he was mayor of New York City; Jeb Bush, immediately after he was governor of Florida, cabinet officers, members of Congress, researchers, and foundation leaders. The award is named for President Harry S. Truman, who commissioned a study on higher education in 1947 that was the first to use the term “community college.”
“Celeste is completely dedicated to the success of community colleges in preparing students for the skilled technical workforce. She is an engaged and thoughtful leader and a tireless advocate who has helped to build the ATE community and to advance community colleges nationally. She inspires and supports community college innovation—and it is truly an honor to work with her,” said Ellen Hause, associate vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at AACC. Hause is also principal investigator of the Strengthening and Supporting the Community College Leadership Role in Advancing STEM Technician Education project, which supports multiple AACC initiatives that strengthen technician education and build the STEM capacities of faculty and two-year colleges. These initiatives include MentorLinks and the annual ATE Principal Investigators’ Conference.
Following the 2023 AACC Convention in Denver (April 1 to 4), Carter took the time to provide answers to questions about her national honor; her advocacy for two-year college students, faculty and institutions; and her hopes for the ATE program. Her answers are in italics below.
How does it feel to receive AACC’s Truman Award when past award winners have included presidents, governors, as well as business and philanthropic leaders?
Being the 2023 recipient of the Truman Award has been an incredible experience. Exciting, humbling, feeling proud to know that my efforts have been recognized as exemplary in impacting community and technical colleges—all of these and more. I was definitely struck by the list of past awardees as I didn’t see my role as a program director at the NSF as comparable to U.S. Presidents and other elected officials. This made me so appreciative of AACC recognizing my efforts as worthy of this award.
In the past few years you have become an advocate not only of the ATE program but it seems for all community college students and graduates in the STEM technical workforce through your work on interagency working groups including the US Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing, Education and Workforce Development. What do you think are your most persuasive points when you meet with elected officials, federal and state policy makers, and industry leaders?
I see my role of providing examples and evidence of the quality and excellence of students, faculty, and two-year colleges as being a critical message when I meet with elected officials, federal and state policy makers, and industry leaders. I often have individuals tell me that they didn’t know the programs at two-year colleges were at the cutting-edge of technologies. Many didn’t know that faculty have developed committed partnerships with industry and economic development entities. The dedication of faculty, administrators, and industry to support students is a powerful force that helps students gain the knowledge, skills, and competencies that industry values and that lead to upwardly mobile career opportunities for students entering the workforce.
How does your experience as a community college instructor influence your message?
I think that my experiences as both an entry-level technician (my first job following graduation from college) and as a community college faculty have influenced both my work as a program director on the ATE program and the messages I can convey to a diverse set of individuals.
We often hear the phrase, “You can't really understand another person's experience until you've walked a mile in their shoes.” Having worked as a technician and having been a faculty member has made me very aware of both the opportunities and challenges associated with both of these positions, and I try to convey what I have learned from all of the opportunities I have experienced.
What did you do as a technician?
I was hired as an entry-level technician at Baylor College of Medicine in the laboratory of Dr. Priscilla Schaffer. I worked there for about 1.5 years and moved with Dr. Schaffer to Harvard School of Medicine. I continued as a technician until entering the Ph.D. program at Harvard. So, I was a technician for about two years, total.
I started the biotechnology program and then the bioinformatics program at Foothill, and I was the director of both programs. I was hired at Foothill to develop and run the biotechnology program and also taught cell and molecular biology in the Biology Department.
[Carter received her bachelor’s degree in bacteriology and immunology from the University of California, Berkeley; her master’s degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from Harvard University; and her Ph.D. in microbiology from Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine.]
The Harvard Business School Partnership Imperative report and recent Hechinger Report articles have very negative assessments of community colleges. Do you think ATE projects and centers individually or collectively have overcome the challenges detailed in those reports or are they similarly mired? Do you have some examples of programs delivering graduates to the workforce in a timely fashion?
I do think that the ATE centers and projects have overcome many of the challenges cited in these reports. That said, the challenges are still there, and not all of them have been resolved. For ATE, partnering with industry and having student internships definitely keeps students engaged and retained. The direct ties with industry signal to students that they are taking courses that teach what high-tech employers want technicians to know. I also think it’s important to remember that many students enrolled at two-year IHEs [institutions of higher education] have many other challenges. The average age is older and many have families, mortgages, car payments and other issues to deal with, including holding down a job while attending classes. I wonder if the data collection misses many of these issues, but I don’t know how the system could change to accommodate the wide range of issues faced by students.
As far as examples, when asked, PIs usually tell me that close to 100% of the students in their programs are hired by industry.
One of those is Chander Arora, principal investigator of the ATE project Expanding Biotechnology Pipeline to Adults Seeking Reemployment at Los Angeles Mission College in California. She had 100% job placement of her 2022 cohort. Six students even received job offers before completing their first certificate.
I see this as speaking to ways in which the challenges cited in the two reports can be overcome. Here is an ATE project that has industry hiring students out of the program before they complete the first certificate (similar to my findings at Foothill), and 100% of students are hired by the biotech industry. Her program has a small number of students at this time, but I would expect that it will grow as prospective students hear about the success of program students.
Many other ATE projects also have students hired out of their programs before they finish ... I do know that I had similar results as a faculty with my biotechnology program in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many students were hired prior to finishing a certificate and the companies then provided them flexible work hours and paid their tuition to continue their education.
If you could wave a magic wand, how would you like ATE innovations to be adopted by other community colleges?
My magic wand would have ALL two-year institutions looking at the results and impacts of the ATE program, surveying their regional industries, and adapting and implementing materials to support their students and the local industries. I really see two-year institutions as drivers of economic growth and development.
It seems that the ATE program (with Congressional authorization for its budget to double) has broad bipartisan support. How would you like community college educators to build on this?
I hope to see administrators supporting their faculty in generating ideas with their local industry. I see gains for the institutions, faculty, students and industry—there is a ROI [return on investment] for everyone involved.