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Advanced Technological Education (ATE) principal investigators got another charge at their recent annual meeting: Leverage their knowledge and professional networks to help address the nation’s environmental and energy issues.
The principal investigators, who are mostly community college educators, are considered catalysts for change in technical education by virtue of their grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for innovative programs in advanced technology fields.
NSF Director Arden Bement urged them to join the process "to reorganize our intellectual capacity" to address energy and environment problems. He said priorities include obtaining more accurate information on climate change, reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and maintaining the nation’s prosperity as it deals with higher energy costs.
"Most importantly, we need to educate a workforce that is equipped to understand the interrelationships between the first three (priorities) and take an active part in meeting these challenges," Bement said.
He noted that the centers and projects that NSF funds through its ATE program are well-positioned at community colleges throughout the country to help create educational opportunities in a "green" economy.
"NSF is justly proud of its Advanced Technological Education program and its efforts to develop the technical skills of those students who will form the backbone of the nation’s technological workforce," Bement said.
He went on to quote Norman Augustine’s praise of ATE "as a unique partnership between education, government and industry" that is helping America compete in the global marketplace. Augustine served as chair of the National Academies of Science Committee that authored the landmark report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." Augustine also provided the foreward to "ATE Centers Impact," a 2008 report that summarizes the activities and accomplishments of ATE centers.
Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, encouraged ATE participants to explore grant opportunities in the pending American Graduation Initiative "to branch out and take all this knowledge and really transform it" for other efforts that will attract more people to science, technology, engineering and math fields.
"What we need from you are really your best ideas," she said, explaining that educating world-class workers is among the Obama administration’s top priorities.
"I think a lot of the work that you are doing can be brought to bear on new ways to leverage all our resources to get students through college and into jobs," Kanter said.
Two other plenary speakers called upon the 700 educators and business people and 69 students who attended the three-day conference in Washington, D.C., in October to action on behalf of the environment.
Randy Udall, former director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, called the dynamic challenges caused by the scarcity of natural resources "our generation’s space race."
Udall asked educators and business leaders to rethink approaches to their professional fields to address the vulnerabilities created by America’s appetite for energy based on fossil fuels. He thinks the nation’s economic growth depends on figuring out ways to use resources more efficiently.
"I really honestly don’t believe politics is going to solve (the problem). It’s going to be solved by human brain power," Udall said, harkening back to the nation’s historic strength in innovation and its inventive geniuses.
"The way forward for us is in the knowledge, the books, the learning," he said.
Debra Rowe called for those involved in ATE to lead systematic changes on their campuses and in their communities to address environmental sustainability issues. Rowe is president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and a professor of energy management and renewable energy at Oakland Community College (Michigan).
"It’s not just green thinking, it’s systemic thinking. We have to shift the entire society," she said.
By weaving sustainability across the curriculum, Rowe argues that community colleges will help students gain the skills to be change agents who engage in solutions. Among the steps she recommends are adding green applications to math and other courses, labeling conservation and other campus environmental efforts with the same logo to raise their visibility and convening partnerships of community organizations and professional associations.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges