All community college educators can benefit from the advice that three community college administrators shared recently with MentorLinks mentees.
Vince DiNoto, principal investigator of the ATE GeoTech Center, Ann Beheler, principal investigator of the National Convergence Technology Center, and Rassoul Dastmozd, president of St. Paul College, have served as mentors for several MentorLinks cohorts.
All three have also been involved in small and large National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (ATE) initiatives and other externally funded projects. During a panel discussion at the meeting of MentorLinks mentees and mentors in October, they talked about the "multiplier effect" of building on the success of small grants, like MentorLinks.
MentorLinks is a program improvement initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The association awards funds from its National Science Foundation ATE grant to two-year colleges that want to start or improve STEM technician education programs. Colleges selected for the program receive the services of an experienced community college mentor, $20,000 for faculty release time for planning and professional development, and travel stipends over the two-year grant period.
AACC will issue a new request for proposals from community and technical colleges in February 2014.
Ask in Order to Receive
DiNoto says the secret to being a successful fundraiser is: "You have to be willing to ask and you have to be willing to accept 'yes' and 'no'."
ATE is an excellent place for community college educators who are new to federal grants to take a chance, to share their ideas, and to ask for support. NSF even offers a track within the ATE program for colleges that have not previously received funding.
Apart from applying for grants, DiNoto suggests people begin by frankly saying to ATE Center principal investigators that you would like to partner with them. National and regional ATE centers have to find collaborators beyond their institutions and nearby communities. Be prepared to talk about what you and your college can bring to a joint project, he said.
For those with current ATE project and center grants, the showcase sessions during the annual ATE Principal Investigators Conference are the perfect places to learn about other projects and talk with other principal investigators about partnering opportunities. For faculty who do not currently have ATE grants, information about active grants is available at NSF's website and at ATE Central's website. Both websites can be searched by location and topic area.
Beheler told the MentorLinks mentees not to be discouraged by rejection. "If you get 'no' it may not be permanently," she said, urging follow-up questions whenever possible to learn what factors affected the decision and how to improve proposals.
Dastmozd reminded the MentorLinks mentees that they are developing a process and the culture for obtaining and using grants at their colleges. "Don’t think of it as a one-time phenomenon, but as a three-to-five year plan."
Dastmozd advises faculty members to look for initiatives that fit with their colleges’ strategic plans for workforce training, innovation, and capitalizing resources. He encouraged faculty to help shape the college's strategic plan by becoming involved in the meetings that lay the groundwork for the periodic updates of strategic plans.
Work with Employers and Leverage Their Input
Because community colleges educate people who generally stay in the college's service region, Beheler suggests starting plans for new programs by talking with business and industry. She likes to engage thought leaders and first-line doers in industry to make sure the college's curricula and programs line up with what they want.
“If we educate people for a job that doesn’t exist, I think we’ve failed,” she said. Once a new or revised program is in place, be sure to recognize the companies and individuals who were involved in developing it. "Be a shameless name dropper about the program," she said.
Dastmozd advises educators to speak in the terms that industry partners understand. "You want it to be business lingo, so they buy in," he said.
DiNoto suggests a bifocal approach to industry: look locally at what industry needs and look nationally for trends and how other educators interact with the target industry.
DiNoto has the Geotech Center's advisory council meet quarterly so he and the center's education partners can learn what is going on with employers. These frequent updates are especially important for the center's work with government agencies, which are big users of geospatial technologies.
Connect with Other Key Audiences
Another key government-related audience is local legislators. Dastmozd says he encourages his deans to make presentations to legislators whenever possible. He asks them to spend at least five minutes of every conversation with a legislator talking about the college's impact on students and the community. When legislators understand how the college affects students and the wider workforce, they are more inclined to connect the college's accomplishments and aspirations with their plans.
Dastmozd said that whenever he goes to a business or makes a public presentation he takes along a student who can talk about the college or the program that is the subject of the meeting. He has found that this conveys to audiences, both large and small, that students are his and the college's top priority. St. Paul College has students from 35 different countries; some students were in refugee camps before immigrating to the U.S.
“Students' stories resonate,” he said. “It's not about the president, not about the institution, it’s about the students.”
Make Your College President Look Good
DiNoto advises faculty to make their college president look good. Keep the president informed of your work before, during, and after receiving a grant. Thank him or her publicly for supporting your project whenever you speak about it in public or write about it.
He points out that it is just human nature that when a president feels appreciated and a project works well, he or she will be more inclined to respond positively to subsequent requests.
"Make your president look good," DiNoto said in closing.
Beheler's final advice was: "Seek help from anyone you need."
Dastmozd concluded the session with: “If you get a dream, start with the end in mind.”