If your project has just been funded, and particularly if you have never received NSF funding before, this portion of ATE 101 should be especially helpful.
Since the early 1990s, the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program has focused on education for high-tech fields with an emphasis on programs at two-year colleges. One of the key strengths of the program is the emphasis on creating and strengthening partnerships between academic institutions and employers. NSF makes ATE program awards in three tracks:
ATE Central Tip: Visit the NSF website to learn more about the ATE program and download the most recent ATE program Request for Proposal (RFP)!
The best way to find out more about the way NSF and the ATE program are structured and to connect with NSF is by contacting your program officer. Program officers help manage various NSF programs, including ATE. ATE is part of NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) and is managed by a Division Director, a Deputy Division Director, Program Officers (there is often a Lead Program Officer), and Rotators. Program officers and rotators are usually academics that have been PIs themselves. Both are full time NSF staff, though rotators generally have one- or two year appointments. Once they have left their rotations at NSF, most rotators go back to their home institutions, although some go on to be program officers and stay at NSF long-term. Whether your program officer is long-term staff or a rotator, it’s easy to find his or her name and contact information by going to FastLane and looking at the information about your project. Emailing or calling your program officer is encouraged. Individual program officers are there to help and may have references about how you complete certain requirements—like writing your annual report—so it’s good to get to know them and ask their advice.
Each fall, PIs and staff funded by the ATE program come together in Washington, D.C. to share achievements, become inspired by student successes, interact with NSF, and network with their peers. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) organizes the event. For those new to the community, it can be a bit overwhelming: there are about 800 very busy people attending, many of whom have known each other for more than a decade. It’s a great place to meet people and network, but figuring out how can be a little daunting. The strategies listed here should help you get started.
Preconference workshop and webinar
Every year, the “Getting Started” preconference workshop offers advice and information to those new to ATE. While there is a modest fee to attend, this workshop is a great way to learn about key figures in ATE, how to connect with NSF, and much more. Make sure to sign up for it when you register for the PI meeting. There is also a preconference webinar offered for those just getting started in ATE. You can find more information by checking AACC’s ATE web site.
Maximizing the PI meeting
Before you go to the PI meeting, take a little time to think about your goals for attending. As a new project, you may want to use this first meeting to make contacts: see who has projects or centers in your region or field, and connect with those PIs. You will also want to think about how to get others excited about your work and connect with key community members who can help encourage that excitement. If you are bringing staff with you, find some time to go over the goals of your grant together and think about how you can approach the meeting as a team to reach your objectives. Planning prior to the PI meeting can make a world of difference in your approach and its result. There are several tools to use as you prepare to attend the PI meeting. You can start by going to AACC’s PI Conference web site and looking through the information there. You can use ATE Central’s map interface to figure out who is already working in your area or your field and then make a list of PIs you’d like to talk to at the conference. ATE Central has also worked with others in the community to create an ATE PI Conference app for a smartphone or tablet designed to help you navigate the meeting, keep track of contacts, and flag presentations you decide to attend. You’ll be invited to download the app shortly before the conference.
ATE Central Tip: If you’re new to ATE, the preconference workshop titled “Getting Started” is key – sign up for it when you register for the PI meeting.
Once your project or center is funded, there is a lot to do: hiring, purchasing new equipment, coordinating with partners, and so on. There is a lot of support from within the ATE community to help you in a number of areas. Within this handbook you’ll find information on everything from how to strengthen your evaluation plan to options for conducting online surveys to creating an outreach plan for your project or center. The following sections offer information and project management tools that will help you grow your project or center.
The logic model is a great tool for helping you think through project components, like evaluation or outreach, and relate them to your larger goals. You may find that you can use logic models as general planning tools or to “scale up” a particular part of your project or center. There is a lot of great information online about logic models in varying degrees of complexity. To the right is an example of a logic model. The ATE-funded Synergy project is another great source of information related to using logic models. Synergy has been working with ATE centers to help them scale up innovations, and logic models have been essential in the process.
Mind mapping is another way of organizing information related to your project or center. While a logic model is highly organized, a mind map is more free form. It starts with a main idea at the center, which is linked to thematic spokes that radiate out, per the example to the right. Mind maps help you think out aspects of your project or center in a multifaceted and visually focused way. It can also be a fun technique in a group brainstorming session with a whiteboard and colored markers. There is a lot of information online about using mind mapping and even software options, though paper and crayons or colored pencils work just as well.
A great way to get feedback and guidance for larger, more complex projects or centers is to create an Advisory Board. Some centers (and occasionally projects) are asked to assemble a National Visiting Committee. Both of these entities can help steer your project or center and act as advisors and mentors. If you are required to create an NVC, your program officer can offer guidance. EvaluATE, an ATE Center at Western Michigan University, is also a very helpful resource.
Annual reports provide NSF with yearly information and data about your center or project’s impact and activities. Program officers use these reports to learn about grant activities, monitor progress towards goals and objectives, and provide feedback. They also use this information to analyze program impact and produce their own reports. Annual reports are required of all NSF grants.
NSF reports are now submitted under the government-wide Research.gov system, not FastLane. To submit a report, go to http://www.research.gov/. Click on the first link (Project Reports) to proceed. Project reports may now be submitted only after the report due date. The due date for annual reports is 90 days before the anniversary of the grant effective date (which is on your grant letter or the dashboard in Research.gov). The due date for final reports is the grant expiration date. Reports are considered overdue 90 days past the due date. NSF terminology here is confusing, but can be summed up thus: NSF expects you to file the report sometime during the 90 day period between due and overdue dates. An overdue report will block any action on this and other NSF grants for all PIs and co-PIs until the report is submitted and approved.
If you are used to filling out annual reports in FastLane, be aware that the new template in Research.gov is not the same. While the basic information required is similar, the questions asked and the report sections are somewhat different. It’s also important to note that the same template is used for all NSF project reports, so you may need to interpret broadly some of the categories in order to tell NSF what you have done in the prior year.
Please note that the information above is the latest information we have from the National Science Foundation concerning reporting and is subject to change. If in doubt, call or email your program officer; they are always able to provide the most up-to-date information.
ATE Central Tip: Log into Research.gov sooner rather than later and familiarize yourself with the annual report template so that you can collect appropriate data and information throughout the year prior to writing your annual report.