ATE Impacts

Success of Industry Credentials in Montcalm Robotics Program Leads to Their Addition Elsewhere


Montcalm’s robotics curriculum delivers skills that align with industry standards and meet employers’ needs.

Montcalm Community College’s robot technician education project has ushered in a new era of credentialing at the Michigan college.  

Successfully incorporating industry credentials into the automation maintenance degree program for robot technicians has “spring-boarded” the addition of industry certifications to the college’s welding and machining programs, according to Deborah Dawson-Gunther. She is the principal investigator of the Educating Robot Maintenance and Repair Technicians to Address Workforce Gaps in Automation and Skilled Trades project funded with an Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant and is a faculty member of the automation and advanced industrial technology department at Montcalm.

Rather than diminishing the college’s associate degrees and certificates, Dawson-Gunter said the industry credentials are encouraging students to enroll and addressing employers’ expectations. “The employers are happy about it,” she said.   

“The world is changing around us....We need to change or die,” Rob Spohr said during a presentation at the 2022 ATE Principal Investigators’ Conference. Spohr was then the vice president for academic affairs at Montcalm. During the session on Industry 4.0 he and Dawson-Gunther explained why and how the college is tying as many courses as possible with industry credentials from various sources.

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From the Archive: Using Interviews to Spotlight Career Pathways


Advanced technology fields offer a breadth of opportunities for those interested in pursuing them. However, many potential STEM students need to be better informed about the various career paths, what a STEM career could look like, or how to get started. Hearing from students and professionals in these high-tech fields is a practical approach for reaching those who want to learn more.

In this month's From the Archive blog post, we highlight career videos ATE grantees created. Our first collection of videos spotlights the work of technicians in the expansive field of advanced manufacturing. In contrast, our second calls attention to the expectations of students enrolled in a nuclear energy program and their reasons for choosing this industry. Last up is a promotional video featuring recent graduates, who describe their experiences and advice for pursuing a career in photonics.

For those interested in creating their own career videos, check out this past From the Archive blog post on producing quality video content.

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With Biotech Certificate Ignacio G. Rivera Lands Job with His Dream Employer


Ignacio G. Rivera

As a teenager Ignacio G. Rivera helped his dad – who has worked for a commercial window washing company for more than 30 years – set up equipment to clean the exterior windows at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. At one point he told his dad, “I want to work here one day. I want to be on the inside. I want to know what it’s like.” 

In his late 20s Rivera had a plan to become a nurse and if all went well to be involved in patient care at Cedars-Sinai. He had saved money while taking classes part time at Los Angeles Mission College in California and working full time. In fall 2021 he started arranging things to enroll in an accelerated nursing baccalaureate program at a private college. But, when he saw his first tuition bill with $2,400 per course charges and lots of fees, he reconsidered.

He was feeling defeated in January 2022 when an LA Mission College email with biotech in the subject line caught his attention. “It was a one-semester thing. I was like, ‘Why not? I’ve been in school so long, let me try biotech’ ... That did change my life. I’m really happy with where I’m working at today,” he said.

Today he is a research lab assistant for Cedars-Sinai’s Medically Associated Science and Technology Program (MAST) team. He began work in June, right after finishing the laboratory assistant biotechnology certificate program. When his dad saw his employee ID badge, “He was just the proudest,” Rivera said.

Rivera is grateful to Chander P. Arora, Ph.D., the biotechnology instructor at LA Mission College and principal investigator of the Expanding the Biotechnology Pipeline to Adults Seeking Reemployment Advanced Technological Education (ATE) project.

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Three Video Series Highlighting the ATE Community


An image from the ATE Impacts book,. The image shows two students preparing their underwater robot in a pool

ATE Central serves as an information hub for the ATE grantee community alongside promoting the work of ATE grantees and sustaining their work through ATE Central’s archiving services and resource collection. ATE Central also creates a number of tools, services, and resources that are freely available to those within and beyond ATE and are designed to support the work of educators. In this post, we wanted to share some of our work done collaboratively with others to create several different video series. These include the ATE Student Success Stories, the Achieving Sustainability series, and four new videos that showcase the impact of the ATE programs and are a companion to the ATE Impacts book.

The Student Success Stories highlight a diverse set of students' struggles and triumphs in community and technical college settings and showcase the impact of the ATE program on their lives, education, and career paths. The ATE Impacts videos reveal the impact of ATE on a variety of stakeholders—Principal Investigators, administrators, students, and industry partners.  

And finally, the Achieving Sustainability series was created in collaboration with the American Association of Community Colleges to help support ATE grantees as they endeavor to sustain their activities and impacts beyond National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. Read on to learn more about each video series. 

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Two ATE Center Leaders Explain How They Obtain NSF Funding for Student Research Experiences


MNT-EC interns conduct research in a cleanroom at the University of New Mexico.

Offering community college students genuine research opportunities through the Advanced Technological Education centers they lead is a priority of Jared Ashcroft at the Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) and Kapil Chalil Madathil at the Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools (CA2VES).

Their approaches to obtaining financial support are different but effective. Ashcroft has obtained funding by submitting proposals in response to “Dear Colleague Letters” from the National Science Foundation (NSF) while Chalil Madathil has accessed support through NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) supplements.

Their distinct undergraduate research initiatives have another thing in common: they engage students in authentic research to broaden their thinking and career aspirations.

“Telling them research is not something that certain people can do. Everyone can do research,” is Chalil Madathil’s key point with the community college students who participate in summer internships with CA2VES.

Both educators encourage their colleagues in the ATE community to leverage their NSF grants to provide community college students with research experiences. In separate interviews they explained how they have done it.   

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Preparing for the 2022 ATE PI Conference: Reconnecting & Advancing the Skilled Technical Workforce


The PI Conference banner with dates and locations

Fall is here, and so is the 2022 ATE Principal Investigators Conference, from October 26th to October 28th, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. This year, the conference is back in-person with a virtual participation component. For projects and centers old and new, the annual PI Conference offers a chance to share experiences, collaborate, learn, and meet other members of the ATE community. While you have probably been preparing already, now is an excellent time to double-check and ensure your project or center is ready for the big event.

This year's theme is Reconnecting & Advancing the Skilled Technical Workforce. The conference will focus on critical issues related to advanced technological education across the United States. There will be two virtual ATE Connects kick-off events for different discipline areas on Thursday, October 20th, and Friday, October 21st. Additionally, there will be post-conference virtual events in November.

This PI Conference may be the first time some projects and centers have attended in person! With that in mind, we have provided sometips and information for first-time conference goers and pertinent reminders for those experienced attendees. To support your preparation efforts here is some information that you may find helpful:

ATE Central Centers and Projects Map

The Centers and Projects map is a great way to learn about possible collaborators in your field or region and identify who may be at the PI conference. With the map, you can search through projects and centers by area of the country or by general subject area. While browsing the map, now is also a good time to ensure that your project or center's record is up to date. Let us know if you have new resources, a new project description, or other social media outlets. We can best support and amplify your efforts with up-to-date information about your project or center and related deliverables.

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Columbus State Faculty Test Ways to Accelerate Welding Education


Scott Laslo is a welding instructor and ATE principal investigator at Columbus State Community College.

Why is there a shortage of qualified welders in America? For Scott Laslo, a welding instructor at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, the main reasons are welding technicians’ retirements, recruiting difficulties amid rising industry demand, and the “long, long time” that it takes to develop the skills of a welder.

He and his colleagues can’t do anything about retirements and they’ve had some success with targeted recruiting campaigns. To address the third point—to educate a new generation of welders, as efficiently as possible—Laslo is leading an Advanced Technological Education (ATE) project funded by the National Science Foundation that uses digital welding trainers and virtual tracking systems to provide students with more personalized feedback to accelerate their learning.

“The old way of teaching welding is too slow. We have to find a way to get it done faster…The stakes are very high. The standards are very high. We cannot change those standards. They are there for life safety. What we do as a welding professional, it affects the life of every person on the planet, so we have to do our job to the highest skill possible,” Laslo said.

He and the other welding instructors at Columbus State Community College, are partnering with Weld-Ed, the National Center for Welding Education and Training at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, on the project that began in October 2020 with faculty professional development.  

Now at Columbus State, not only are instructors’ lectures and demonstrations recorded, but students record their own work during multi-hour welding labs. Welding instructors review the videos and data about their welding techniques from the trainers, and provide students with written critiques using a rubric the project has created. “This assessment-driven approach is expected to contribute the development of standardized welding practices,” according to the project’s NSF award abstract (2000535).

Laslo explained that during a typical four-hour lab with 10 students, a welding instructor can spend only five to 10 minutes observing and talking to each student about his or her work. “That’s not a lot of contact with the content expert,” he said, pointing out that for the other three hours and 50 minutes, a student could be doing something incorrectly.

Now with the data and recordings, instructors and students can focus on correct welds and what exactly is happening when errors occur.   

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Four Newly Funded Projects


Two student technicians from the CAAT Center look over a car. Photo taken from the latest Impacts book

The National Science Foundation (NSF) annually funds approximately 12,000 new awards, with an average funding duration of three years. Each year some of those new awards are supported by the ATE Program, which focuses on improving and expanding educational programs for skilled workers in high-tech STEM fields. ATE grantees concentrate on a range of fields, including advanced manufacturing, agriculture and environment, bio and chemical, information and security, and micro and nanotechnologies and are based primarily at two-year institutions across the nation. This year we wanted to celebrate our new grantees by highlighting four newly funded projects from the 2022 funding cycle. 

Access to Careers in Advanced Building Technology

The Milwaukee Area Technical College created this project to connect underserved populations with education and careers in advanced building technology. Access to Careers in Advanced Building Technology's goals are to meet the industry's need for skilled technicians and increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. They plan on doing this in collaboration with the City of Milwaukee and local industry partners. Building needs in Milwaukee and the larger area face numerous challenges, including increased health concerns, energy efficiency goals, management of new technologies, and high workforce attrition. The project seeks to increase the pool of skilled technicians ready to solve these challenges.

The project is developing a diploma program, four digital badges, a pre-apprenticeship program, and an apprenticeship program. These opportunities give students the skills for multiple entries into employment. The project's partnerships have already proved successful, with local industry organizations committing to hiring program students with paid internships. Access to Careers in Advanced Building Technology will also provide workshops with hands-on lab activities, career information, and job prospects.

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Mentor-Connect & Working Partners Reconfigure Buffy Quinn’s Career


Buffy Quinn, an assistant dean at OCC, credits Mentor-Connect and Working Partners with her recent promotion.

Since her days as a high school student working with researchers who had National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, Buffy Quinn had dreamed of obtaining her own grant from the federal science agency.  

So, she immediately replied “Yes” in 2018 when a grant professional suggested she apply to Mentor-Connect for help with an application to NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. At that point she was a full-time instructor at Onondaga Community College (OCC). She began teaching at OCC after working for 20 years as a geographic information system analyst whose specialty was modeling remediation plans for Super Fund sites.

“NSF is paying me to teach me how to get more money. This is amazing. This is an opportunity I cannot pass up,” she remembers thinking about Mentor-Connect’s stipend and travel support to work with a mentor while preparing an ATE grant proposal.    

Quinn attributes her 2020 ATE grant award and her 2022 promotion to assistant dean of Natural and Applied Sciences at OCC to the knowledge she gained through Mentor-Connect and the support she received from the people Mentor-Connect introduced her to in the ATE community.

Those contacts led to her participating in Working Partners, an ATE applied research project that helps faculty develop strategies to improve community college-industry partnerships. The model programs Quinn learned about through Working Partners and the plans she developed to cultivate industry support for her ATE project informed her job interview responses and are now influencing her approach to her duties as an administrator. She also recently became an assistant director and senior team member of the GeoTech Center, which is led by her Mentor-Connect Mentor Vincent A. DiNoto, Jr.      

“It is not hyperbole to say that experience [becoming a Mentor-Connect mentee] has changed my life. It has completely changed the trajectory of my career,” she said.

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ATE Project Creates Summer STEM Fun


Several students laugh together while controlling a robot arm

Impacts of the ATE program and ATE projects and centers extend throughout the  year. The ATE-funded NextGen Technicians project provides evidence that summer is a perfect time to show young children the benefits of STEM education.

Last summer, NextGen Technicians hosted two summer camps for North Iowa students, which included building robot arms! NextGen Technicians  is based at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) and aims to increase the number of industrial technicians in North Iowa and to ensure that they are well-qualified to work with robots. The two camps run by the project last summer were offered to provide practical experiences that showcase the benefits of STEM technician career opportunities.

NIACC’s two camps offered were designed for students from elementary through high school. First was Mind Mania, for grades 3-8, and second was Minds On! Hands On!, which introduced high school girls to industrial careers using hands-on activities.

Two sessions of Mind Mania were offered, with a total of 31 campers attending. Anthony Riesen, the Innovation Workspace Coordinator at the NIACC John Pappajohn Center, led both sessions. Mind Mania’s Robo Rukus session introduced students entering grades 3-5 to robotics, the capabilities and limitations of robots, the mechanical construction of robots, sensors versus actuators and the wiring connecting these components, and the basic programming concepts. Campers constructed a tin can robot and a mBot in addition to utilizing languages designed to program them: Blockly-Primary, Python, and Arduino C. 

A second session, Next Level Robots, was aimed at students entering grades 6-8. The goals for this were similar to Robo Rukus— encouraging students to delve further into the construction and programming of robots, which included adding grabbers and sensors. Vex and Tetrix robotics equipment were borrowed from the local high school robotics team for participants to create a robot. The Vex and Tetrix kits are designed to link two Android phones together—one phone takes commands from a game controller. It relays these directions to the other phone that receives the signal and controls the robot. This framework has been utilized in the nationally acclaimed FIRST Tech Challenge for many years.

The second camp, Minds On! Hands On! was held for high school-age girls from North Iowa the following week. CoPI Brian Mason assisted in the planning of the three-day event and aided, Anthony Riesen, who instructed the camp. PI Bob Franken spent a day with the campers explaining the Universal Robots (UR) housed in the NIACC Robotics Lab.

The campers were introduced to the basics of robotics, including the structure, electronics, and programming of robots. They built and programmed their own 3D Printed Robotic arms that utilize control software. Maestro Control Center and PolyScope were used for the 3D Robotic arms. All 3D Printed parts were made with PLA plastic filament on a Flash Forge Creator Pro Printer. Campers took their robot arms home when camp concluded.

Many thanks to the NextGen Technicians project for sharing a write up about the camps with the ATE Central team that formed the basis for this post.  Visit the project’s website to learn more about their work!

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