Christine Delahanty, a Bucks County Community College (Pennsylvania) physics, engineering, and engineering technology professor, is excited to begin work on January 16 at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a temporary program director, also known as a rotator.
“I’m very willing, and happy to participate and serve my duty as long as they need me,” Delahanty said of her initial one-year contract with NSF and leave of absence from Bucks. NSF rotators’ terms may be extended for up to four years.
Delahanty led two NSF Advanced Technological Education grant-funded projects at Bucks. “I love competition. I love to write. I found this to be a great opportunity for me,” Delahanty said of being an ATE principal investigator. Her other NSF-funded activities include coaching student teams that qualified for the final rounds of the Community College Innovation Challenge in 2016 and 2017 and serving as a Mentor-Connect Mentor Fellow in 2022.
She describes each as a positive learning experience. Her sunny perspective and outgoing personality may be surpassed only by her tenacity.
For example, when her second ATE grant proposal was declined, Delahanty rewrote it and resubmitted it four years in a row before it was funded. “Failure is a great motivator for me,” she said during a recent Zoom interview.
“The great thing about submitting several times before you get awarded again is that you polish it up, your college evolves,” she said, adding, “I’ve learned to fail forward.” Delahanty said she learned this phrase from NSF personnel and uses it to encourage students.
Reaping the Benefits of Persistence
By the time the Increasing the Number of Workforce-ready Engineering Technicians in Southeastern Pennsylvania project was funded in 2019 Delahanty said both she and the college were in better positions to expand the engineering technology program—that started with her first ATE grant—to serve a wider population of students, including those from historically underrepresented groups.
In 2017 at age 56—with the encouragement of her three daughters and husband—Delahanty enrolled in the educational leadership and management doctoral program at Drexel University. Delahanty’s other academic credentials include a bachelor’s degree in physics from Villanova University and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for General Electric Company in aerospace for nine years and then spent eleven years as a stay-at-home parent before becoming a college instructor.
Her confidence got a significant boost from the many papers she wrote and presentations she did for her Ed.D. courses. What she learned also helped her reconsider “those annoying reviewer comments” and “sculpt” a more competitive proposal.
The mixed methods research she conducted for her dissertation on creative self-efficacy of undergraduate female engineering majors also influenced her ATE grant proposal revisions and her other work at Bucks, where she has been a full professor and area coordinator of Science and Engineering in recent years.
“It’s very important once you’ve recruited students into a program to be able to support them at the instructor level, or bottom up, and from the college level, or top down, to assure student success. It’s important. We really do need to make sure these students not only enter into these programs, but that they leave with a degree,” she said.
The team that worked with Delahanty on her second ATE-funded project includes co-principal investigators Susan Herring, executive director of Center for Workforce Development; Tracy Timby, interim associate vice president of Strategic Partnerships at Drexel University; and Vladimir Genis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of Engineering Technology at Drexel. Michael Babij, associate professor of Geosciences, and Science and Engineering and co-coordinator at Bucks with Delahanty, is taking over as principal investigator. Babij has also participated in the ATE grant as senior personnel, assisting with curriculum, marketing, and advising for the grant.
So far the ATE grant has resulted in Bucks expanding its recruitment efforts at high schools where many students qualify for free and reduced lunches, offering professional development to help instructors across the college improve their interactions with diverse populations, and adding more flexible pathways to the engineering technology degree.
In addition to biotechnology, computer science, and environmental technical electives within the engineering technology major, the engineering technology program now includes a concentration for brewery science to prepare students to operate equipment in the growing number of craft breweries in Central Pennsylvania.
The engineering technology program now grants up to 12 credits in industrial maintenance and 12 credits in metal working to individuals who earned certificates in those non-credit training programs at Bucks. Welding students will be the next to qualify for college credit. Delahanty is also working to include a cybersecurity concentration as part of the PC4A cybersecurity community college consortium grant. She serves as senior personnel on this U.S. Department of Defense grant.
“Striving to make the experience better for students” has tightened the engineering technology program’s connection to the college’s Center for Workforce Development, led to engineering technology and engineering students taking College 101—Bucks’ college success seminar—in cohorts, added experiences within the program that increase workforce readiness such as a manufacturing component within the engineering design course, and facilitated flexibility within the major to accommodate diverse industry needs.
Also, the College 101 course now has a significant career exploration component. It also teaches timeliness, one-on-one communication skills, and group presentation skills at the request of industry advisors who are partners on the ATE grant and supporters of the engineering technology program.
Covid-19 had a negative impact on engineering technology enrollments, but Delahanty reported at the 2022 ATE Principal Investigators’ Conference that graduation rates have improved and more women and veterans have enrolled since the ATE project started in 2019.
Learning from Mentors in the ATE Community
Delahanty is grateful for the mentoring she received from several women in the ATE community, particularly Elizabeth Teles, Ph.D.
Teles was the NSF program director for Delahanty’s first ATE grant. At the time Teles was working part time at NSF, where she had been co-lead of the ATE program from 1992, when the program started, until she retired in 2009. Prior to joining NSF, Teles was a mathematics professor and department chair at Montgomery College in Maryland. She currently serves as a co-principal investigator of Mentor Up and a senior consultant for the Community College Presidents’ Initiative in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (CCPI-STEM), which are both ATE projects.
“I can’t even tell you how much I learned from Liz. She’s just so incredibly intelligent and helpful and nurturing and strict ... She’s very direct. Every question I had she answered,” Delahanty said, adding, “I peppered Liz with questions.”
Delahanty has stayed in touch with Teles, who she said encouraged her to apply to be a rotator. “Liz has been a mentor and an inspiration to me,” Delahanty said.
Linda Roselli Rehfuss, a biotechnology professor at Bucks who was a co-principal investigator of the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative, an ATE Center, provided feedback on Delahanty’s proposal drafts and advice on managing her ATE projects. Delahanty described Rehfuss as a “wonderful colleague, wonderful friend.”
About the same time that Delahanty applied to be a rotator she was selected to be a Mentor-Connect Mentor Fellow.
Mentor-Connect mentors offer advice to community college teams over the nine months that they are preparing ATE grant proposals. Mentor-Connect was Delahanty’s first opportunity to work with people from across the United States. Through it she gained insights into the distinct challenges and similarities among community college faculty from various regions.
During Mentor-Connect she shadowed Vicki Jeppesen, a Mentor-Connect mentor who is director of resource development at Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in Wisconsin and director of the NTC Foundation and NTC Property Foundation. “We were actually a really good team,” Delahanty said, explaining that their different perspectives assisted the two college teams they mentored during 2022.
Mentor-Connect Principal Investigator Elaine Craft also has provided guidance to Delahanty on how to be a STEM education leader. “She really helped me so much ... She’s stern too. She’s very nurturing as well, and direct, [she] puts you in the right direction. She’s just so kind. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have met everybody from the Mentor-Connect team—Elaine, Pam [Silvers], Emery [DeWitt]—and all the mentors.”
“It was just wonderful to work with people all over the country, to help them and guide them,” Delahanty said, adding, “I like to share what I know with others. I guess that’s why I became an educator.”
One of her key messages to the Mentor-Connect mentees she worked with last year was that if their proposals are funded, to use the “incredible experience” of being an ATE principal investigator to network, collaborate, learn, and contribute.
“Know that you are doing something very important for education, for our society, for our country. It makes you feel like you are part of a very special group....It’s bigger than just your college. It’s bigger than just your project. Your dissemination is very important. It’s the way to tell the world what you’ve accomplished and how you can help.”
Her general advice to students and colleagues is what she has long shared with her adult daughters and followed when she embarked on a doctoral degree late in her career: “If you have a dream, go for it. It opens so many doors. It opens your brain. It shows you that you can do new things.”