Partnerships built to meet Advanced Technological Education grant requirements have helped Austin Community College's biotechnology teacher education program continue long after National Science Foundation funding for it ended.
"I took very seriously the part of the grant application that said it had to be sustainable because I didn't want it to go away," said Linnea Fletcher, principal investigator of the ATE grant and chair of the Biotechnology Department at Austin Community College.
The first essential partnership was with the veteran and pre-service teachers who took the three-week Summer Institute Fletcher created with NSF support. In the photo from first institute in June 2000, Fletcher (left) instructs high school teachers Lee Hudson and Bob Yates in a University of Texas lab.
The project evaluator, who was involved in UTeach, advised her to treat the high school teachers as collaborators. He advised Fletcher to focus her instruction on biotechnology and lab skills, and let the teachers devise the best ways to convey this material to teenagers in high school classrooms.
Putting teachers in charge of implementation really kicked in when those involved in the ACC Biotechnology High School Teacher Network came up with the plan to mentor new biotechnology teachers. (ACC continues to allow teachers to take Introduction to Biotechnology on campus for free.)
The teachers also recommended allowing novice teachers to borrow equipment from ACC's biotechnology lending library for three years until their districts' incremental purchasing fully equips their high school labs. After three years the novice biotech teachers become mentor teachers.
"It's a huge network that has a life of its own that doesn't need me to coordinate," Fletcher said.
Utilizing the professional development offered by her colleagues in Bio-Link, the national ATE center for biotechnology, also helped stretch the $411,866 grant over six years rather than three and provide more resources for the Austin teachers.
Keeping ACC administrators informed about the grant—Fletcher took them on high school site visits—was another key to sustainability. Following an administrator's suggestion to make the high school students' year-long version of Introduction to Biotechnology a dual credit course with ACC means supply costs for the classes at high schools are folded into the college's budget. And when the grant ended, two deans agreed to share the cost of the administrative assistant for the teacher network.
"I have a lot of administration support," Fletcher said.