ATE Impacts

Marina Achterman Exemplifies Potential of Late-to-STEM Students


Marina Achterman says the “passion for what I was learning, sparked the extra attention and wanting to excel."

Marina Achterman has a 4.0 GPA at Pasadena City College (PCC) where she’s majoring in chemical engineering and doing research as a paid intern. Achterman’s rise to STEM star—she is one of 30 students whose scientific posters were featured at the 2020 Virtual ATE Conference—is a delightful turnaround from her performance in high school biology.

“I was terrible at science,” she said with a light laugh during a recent interview via Zoom. She explained that as a teenager she didn’t see that it mattered to pay attention in school. “I guess I never really applied myself. I wasn’t interested in biology in high school. After I went to PCC I got really interested in chemistry,” she said of the self-discovery that occurred in an introductory general chemistry course.

“I had to start at the bottom. I’m glad I did because I found that I have a passion for it…It was the wavelengths of light that got to me. I love learning about photonics,” she explained.

Then in her second semester of chemistry, Achterman heard Jared M. Ashcroft, principal investigator of the new Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC), talk about undergraduate research experiences. A natural sciences instructor at PCC, Ashcroft has had various leadership roles in the college’s robust undergraduate research programs.

“He came into class and was talking about nuclear chemistry and stuff like that, and I was like, ‘Sold!’,”  she said, raising her hand during the Zoom interview to mimic her response to Ashcroft’s pitch in that 2019 class.

Using research opportunities such as paid internships to recruit students to STEM—particularly individuals whose previous education experiences did not identify them as “good at science”—is a mission to Ashcroft and one he considers “vital” for other community college educators too. 

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I Am ATE: Brandon Keller


Photograph of Brandon Keller.

Name: Brandon Keller

Title: Agriculture Instructor

Institution: Northeast Community College

Project Name: Developing a Precision Agriculture Workforce Ladder through Secondary, College, and Incumbent Worker Education that Integrates Emerging Technologies and Farm Data


ATE Central: How did you become involved with ATE?

Keller: I became involved with the ATE program shortly after being hired by Northeast Community College in Fall 2017, as the then-PI for our current grant wanted to transition out of the role. Since I came into the college with some previous grant experience during my master’s program at Northwest Missouri State University, my supervisor asked me to consider taking over the PI role on the project at the end of year one. That fall I got to attend my first NSF ATE PI Conference in Washington, D.C. and I was immediately hooked on the ATE program! I was amazed by all of the opportunities and dedicated faculty members out in the ATE community. 

ATE Central: Tell us about the goals of your project.

Keller: The overarching goal of our project was to create a laddered approach to increase skilled precision agriculture technicians in Nebraska, addressing an industry shortage that the 20 country region our college serves was witnessing. To make this happen we broke our ladder into three areas: 

High School: To help develop awareness and interest in Precision Agriculture early in high school student careers through the use of a five-lesson curriculum that will eventually be proposed to the Nebraska Department of Education to be integrated into the Introduction to Agriscience curriculum across the state.

College: To create a modularized and hands-on curriculum for our students that will provide real-world, hands-on instruction in the classroom. It was also a goal to take the farm data produced on our 530 acre college farm and identify ways to integrate that date into our agriculture programing. 

Incumbent Workforce: To provide short-course workshops, modularized trainings, and customized trainings to help continue the education of technicians in our service area.

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Student’s Independent Study Leads to Interest in Data Analytics Career


Photograph of Kelly Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor of Mathematics at County College of Morris

Thomas Ortega’s comparison of sunspot data with New York City metropolitan area temperatures since the 1930s was one of 30 student scientific posters showcased at the 2020 Virtual ATE Conference.

His authentic research findings reflected both his commitment to investigating a scientific question as well as the dynamic qualities of Kelly Fitzpatrick, associate professor of mathematics at County College of Morris (CCM) in Randolph, New Jersey, who guided his data analysis.

Fitzpatrick took Ortega and his independent study under her wing in the spring 2020 right about the time she received her first Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant award for the project entitled Expanding Pathways to a Data Science Career by Developing a Certification in Data Science and Analytics (Award # 2000887).

Fitzpatrick taught Ortega the programming language R, which he used to analyze the data he retrieved from online government sources. This fall he took the Introduction to Data Science course that Fitzpatrick created over the summer.

“It was written and ready to go,” Fitzpatrick said matter-of-factly when asked about the quick launch of the new course—the first of the five-course certificate. Despite COVID-related challenges Fitzpatrick and her colleagues on the project team have already accomplished many of the Year 1 goals of the project that aims to prepare students for entry-level data analytics positions.

Novice ATE Principal Investigator Hits the Ground Running 

Since April, Fitzpatrick has worked with colleagues from the math, engineering technology, business, and computer science departments to develop the curriculum of the 16-credit Data Analytics Certificate—which is awaiting approval by college trustees and state officials.

Nancy Binowski, associate professor of information technologies and co-principal investigator of the ATE project created the data science programming class slated to run Spring 2021 and Joshua Denholtz created the machine learning course.

Fitzpatrick also organized the Data Science Summit held on November 7 with the Mathematics Association of Two-Year Colleges of New Jersey (MATYCNJ).  Fitzpatrick is president of MATYCNJ and this first-time summit was something she had written into the project’s dissemination plan. (Eighty-eight people from six states attended the virtual conference. Hadley Wickam, chief scientist at RStudio, was the keynote speaker.)

Fitzpatrick made a presentation in October at the 2020 Virtual ATE Conference on data visualization in Tableau and facilitated two female students attending Women in Data Science Conference. The ATE grant supported their participation in the conference as well as Ortega’s in the ATE Conference.

Interestingly, Ortega is now planning to pursue a data science and analytics career rather than astrophysics, which was his intent when he began exploring possible connections between sunspots and Earth temperature fluctuations. “My hope is to find a job in the field of data science. The research project heavily influenced my choice to pursue data science,” Ortega explained in an email.

Family & CCM Faculty Assist Student’s Research

Ortega sought out an independent research project at the urging of his brother, Christopher, who graduated from CCM in 2016 with an A.S. degree in biology and has since then earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Drew University. Christopher advised him that doing an undergraduate research experience would be a valuable career asset.

“I wanted to get some experience working in an academic environment. Also, I wanted to be able to attach something to my resume,” Ortega wrote in an email. CCM faculty and his brother provided critical support for this effort.

Ortega explained that he began by asking Robert Duffin, an assistant professor of engineering technologies at CCM, about possible research topics. Duffin told him about his studies of sunspot cycles. Then he and Duffin talked with Fitzpatrick about the data he would need to gather and how to analyze it. His brother also helped by finding Abrupt Climate Change, a 2002 National Research Council report, in the Drew University library. Ortega found this report “intriguing.”

At Duffin’s direction Ortega gathered sunspot data from the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observation (SILSO), a department of the Royal Observatory of Belgium. His temperature data is from the National Weather Service Forecast Office’s readings from Central Park in New York City, Newark Liberty Airport in urban New Jersey, and Bridgehampton, a Long Island hamlet, from 1931 to 2019.

After separately charting both data sets, Ortega combined the sunspot activity information with the average temperature data and concluded “that there is no significant correlation between the temperatures and the number of sunspots.”

His poster contains this caveat: “However, the project is not a comprehensive model that effectively accounts for variables not discussed, so it is possible that a correlation can still be made.”

A key thing that Ortega reported learning while making the poster is that his comparison graphs are packed with so much data that they are hard to read. He now knows from first-hand experience: “To make an effective graph with complex information, a large amount of time must be devoted to making sure the data chosen is properly set.”

Ortega may continue the study using other computer languages, but his key research finding is a personal one. “For my own career path, I now have a larger interest in the data science industry, and I have decided to look at other types of computer-based languages,” he stated in the conclusion section of his poster.

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From the Archive: Classroom Activities in Micro- and Nanotechnologies


A person wearing a cleanroom suit works on a computer in a lab.

Over the past few months, so much of our work has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic--many of us are working from home, teaching online, and/or reaching out to our audiences in creative new ways. A number of our institutions are also working hard to support our communities beyond the classroom, perhaps by manufacturing personal protective equipment, supporting local testing efforts, and so much more.

While much could be said about the ongoing contributions of our community members both inside the classroom and out, this month’s From the Archive blog post is inspired by the global attention that nanotechnology-based approaches to diagnosing and treating COVID-19 have received. Highlighted below are an assortment of learning modules and lab activities that ATE grantees have created to support their work in teaching nanotechnology principles in the classroom.

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Virtual Labs Help Sustain Biomanufacturing Program during COVID-19


The Virtual Single-Use Biomanufacturing Lab improves in-person lab efficiency and helps with remote instruction.

Virtual biomanufacturing lab lessons developed by Quincy College faculty with a U.S. Department of Labor grant—and recently updated with an Advanced Technological Education grant— have helped sustain the Massachusetts college’s Biotechnology and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For eight years students have accessed the Virtual Single-Use Biomanufacturing Lab from desktops, phones, and tablets, to practice procedures for operating single-use bioreactors before handling expensive equipment and materials in the campus lab. The virtual lab’s tutorial option provides text, audio, and video instructions. Its practice option requires students to move through each step independently, and it points out errors that students must correct in order to proceed.  

The virtual lab is now available on the website of InnovATEBIO, the National Biotechnology Education Center at Austin Community College in Texas.

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I Am ATE: Mandy Briggs


Photograph of Mandy Briggs.

Name: Mandy Briggs

Title: Assistant Chief Flight Instructor / PI for UCID project

Institution: Parkland College

Project/Center Name: UCID-UAS Curriculum for Industry Demand


ATE Central: How did you become involved with ATE?  

Briggs: I first started with ATE in 2017 as a co-PI for another ATE grant, the PACE project. One of the goals of the PACE project was updating the curriculum for Parkland's precision agriculture program. As the co-PI, I helped implement the use of drones in existing curriculum for the agriculture department. Seeing the need for additional training in our region, this lead to a second grant application with ATE, the UCID project, to create a UAS program at Parkland College. I currently serve as the PI for the UCID project.       

ATE Central: Tell us about the goals of your project/center.  

Briggs: The UCID project has three primary goals. The first goal is to create new UAS courses and credentials to meet industry demand in Central Illinois. We have successfully created three new courses and two new certificates. Promoting the recruitment of minorities for the Parkland UAS program is our second goal. Through targeted marketing and recruitment, female enrollment is increasing in our program. Our third goal is to connect Parkland’s UAS program to area high schools along with universities offering UAS degrees. To connect with area high schools, we have offered training events to high school teachers to help them implement drones in their classrooms as well as workshops for guidance counselors about our program and career opportunities. We are currently pursuing articulation agreements with several universities to offer our students a path for a four-year degree.   

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AACC Offers ATE Connects to Spark Interactions at Virtual PI Conference


2020 ATE Principal Investigators' Conference Banner

In the spirit of experimentation, the 2020 Virtual ATE Principal Investigators’ Conference is launching ATE Connects. The live session from 2:45 to 4 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday, October 20, is an attempt to create opportunities for virtual networking and connection at the conference hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges with support from the National Science Foundation.

Through the ATE Connects platform everyone attending the conference remotely will be able to explore the work underway in the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. To facilitate navigation, projects and centers will be grouped by STEM category (e.g., biotech, advanced manufacturing, etc.) and information, resources, and materials will be keyword-searchable.

Best of all, as individuals view a video or read grantees’ one-page handouts they will be able to join group chat channels by discipline using the Slack app within ATE Connects. People will be able to direct message ATE principal investigators (PIs) through the app, too.

 “The goal is to create connections and conversations around the materials,” Ellen Hause said during an ATE Central Office Hours webinar on September 30 where she fielded questions. As AACC program director for Academic and Student Affairs, Hause is leading the planning for the 27th ATE PI Conference.

To help conference attendees maximize their engagement in the virtual meeting, AACC is offering the ATE Virtual Conference Orientation Webinar from 1 to 2 p.m. (EDT) on Wednesday, October 7. For more information about ATE Office Hours email

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Select Education Resources for Writing, Communicating, and Teaching


Image of a person writing with a pen.

Strong communication and writing skills are an asset across STEM fields, for both those teaching and learning. And it’s important to note that the majority of employers actively search for candidates with solid communication skills, particularly a track record of strong written communication. With the fall semester underway, this blog post highlights resources that will assist ATE community members and their students in honing a variety of valuable skills related to these topics. Do you have additional resources focused on teaching or communicating that you’d like to share with the ATE community?  We’d love to hear from you – email us at!

Work on your writing skills (even remotely) with Purdue OWL.

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) has always been a highly regarded resource for educators and students. The timely addition of their Remote Teaching Resource Portal offers those engaged in remote instruction a handy tool. The section highlights a variety of internal and external writing resources for all age levels, including the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s “Teaching Resources for Writing Instructors” guide, which is geared towards college educators. Many of the other resources are aimed at K-12 educators, though adaptable to higher education settings. For example, the “Professional, Technical Writing” page provides guidance on producing reports, memorandum, and scientific papers. Want even more content from OWL? Check out their YouTube Channel.

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Master of E-books & Interactives Receives HI-TEC Educator of the Year Award


Brookdale Professor Michael Qaissaunee (center) with his networking students at NJ Governor's Cyber Security Challenge.

Brookdale Community College Engineering & Technology Professor Michael Qaissaunee brings a fine-tuned awareness of students’ needs and strong commitment to educational equity to his work as an Advanced Technological Education (ATE) principal investigator.

Qaissaunee received the 2020 HI-TEC Educator of the Year Award for his development of electronic textbooks for technician education and web-based interactive explainers that have lowered students’ costs and increased their understanding of complex science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts.

 “These have really made a difference in my classroom and I’ve heard from teachers from across the country that … these animated learning snippets and interactive activities have really transformed their classrooms. It has really enabled us to reach a broader diversity of learners. They’ve provided a great teaching environment and enabled students to master content and skills that they’re studying,” John Sands said in his introduction of Qaissaunee at the 2020 HI-TEC Conference awards ceremony.  Sands is principal investigator of the National Support Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance and a subject matter expert on Qaissaunee’s E-MATE 2.0: Building Capacity for Interactive Teaching and Learning (Award # 1601612) ATE grant.

Many of the 50 E-MATE interactives on electronics, networking, and cybersecurity topics that Qaissaunee and Sands and his team have built are available at Brookdale’s STEM Institute; all of them will eventually be posted on CSSIA’s website. Other Brookdale College departments are the current hosts of E-MATE interactives that cover challenging concepts in chemistry, environmental science, and physics.

All the E-MATE interactives are free, and, because they use HTML5, do not require an internet connection nor Flash nor Java software. Educators and students can download and access them from flash drives, which, pre-COVID, Qaissaunee distributed at conference presentations and now sends to people who contact him at

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I Am ATE: Donna Lange


Image of Donna Lange.

In this feature ATE Central continues our "I Am ATE" series, which showcases an ATE PI, staff member, industry partner, or other ATE stakeholder. We are excited to help spread the word about the wonderful people who are at the core of the ATE community and the innovative work everyone is doing.

Name: Donna Lange
Title: Associate Professor / PI & Center Director, DeafTEC: Technological Education Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
Institution: Rochester Institute of Technology
Center Name: DeafTEC: Technological Education Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

ATE Central: How did you become involved with ATE?

Lange: My first grant with ATE was in 2000 while I was chair of the Applied Computer Technology department at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), a two-year technical college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and one of the nine colleges of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. At that time, we were looking for funding to support an information technology workforce development project. It was the NTID's grants coordinator who found the solicitation for the ATE program and encouraged us to submit a proposal. We are so grateful to have found ATE and have been part of the community ever since.
ATE Central: Tell us about the goals of your project or center.

Lange: In 2011, after eleven years of several successful ATE funded projects, we were awarded an ATE National Center of Excellence, DeafTEC: Technological Education Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students which is currently in its first year as a resource center.

The goal DeafTEC is to increase the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing (deaf/hh) individuals in highly skilled technician jobs in which there continues to be underrepresentation and underutilization of such individuals in the workplace.

To achieve this goal DeafTEC is providing resources to: (1) advance the career self-efficacy and career awareness of deaf/hh high school and college students related to STEM technician careers, (2) improve access to learning for deaf/hh high school and community college students in STEM classrooms, (3) improve access to learning for student veterans with hearing loss in STEM programs at community colleges, and (4) raise employers' awareness of deaf/hh individuals as an untapped pool of skilled technicians and how to hire, onboard, and create an inclusive work environment for these individuals. 

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