ATE Impacts

Alumni Share Appreciation of Renewable Energy Program


John Schwarzmeier leads SunPeak’s Systems Integration Group. (Photo courtesy of SunPeak.)

Two alumni of the renewable energy technology program at Madison Area Technical College (Madison College) credit the industry connections and experiential learning opportunities that Professor Kenneth Walz makes available to students as essential for positive turns in their career paths.

For John Schwarzmeier, leader of the Systems Integration Group at SunPeak, the critical experience was presenting his honors project—a gravitational potential energy storage device he created—to the renewable energy program’s industry advisory committee in 2018. Afterward several employers chatted with him about his design, and a few weeks later he “was carrying panels on a roof” for SunPeak. His troubleshooting acumen and other skills helped Schwarzmeier advance quickly from an entry-level solar installer position to leading commissioning and maintenance operations for the company’s large solar energy projects.

Alex Thomas attributes his 2020 internship working alongside Schwarzmeier at SunPeak, where he too is now employed fulltime, to a sequence of events that began when he showed up to help with a research project. The optional field activity, which Walz made available to his renewable energy students, was to help him install a small solar array. It tested whether aluminum sheets underneath bifacial photovoltaic (PV) panels would increase their energy production and compared the snow melting performance of bifacial panels with traditional, single-sided PV modules. Thomas was subsequently invited to volunteer at RENEW Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Summit in January 2020. There he met employers and leaders of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). During conversations he learned about a paid internship program funded by the Department of Energy that MREA administers with Wisconsin Technical Colleges. By late August Thomas had secured an internship at SunPeak.

During separate interviews via Zoom both Schwarzmeier and Thomas encouraged ATE educators to offer students authentic research experiences and opportunities to meet employers as part of their technician education programs.

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Select Open Educational Resources for STEM Instruction


A young woman writes in a notebook while reading on her computer.

ATE community members are likely already connected with open education resource (OER) hubs (for example, the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources). Whether you are a novice or knowledgeable OER user, it is always nice to add new tools to your toolkit. Particularly in the textbook realm, OER tools can increase accessibility, equity, and efficacy in classrooms. As COVID-19 continues to impact learning environments, open textbooks are more important than ever. This blog post connects ATE community members with several great platforms. Do you have a favorite OER textbook tool beyond our list?  We’d love to hear from you – email us at!

Find course texts for a variety of disciplines with LibreTexts.

This resource offers libraries for such fields as mathematics, physics, medicine, chemistry, engineering, and biology. The site also has a hub of materials in Spanish and a Workforce Library focused on tech and trade skills. Within all these libraries, readers can find bookshelves of digital textbooks, campus courses of customized LibreTexts, homework exercises, and ancillary materials such as visualizations and simulations. LibreTexts is directed by its founder Delmar Larsen, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Davis, and these materials are developed collaboratively between faculty, students, and outside experts and scholars. 

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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.

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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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