Corporate partnerships are the lynchpin for many college programs
Campus Issues / Technology
Using partnerships to curb cost of facilities, services
More in: Workforce Development / Opinions
Auto consortium takes on the manufacturing challenge
More in: Government / Workforce Development
Students in Neosho County Community College's construction technology program build a garage for a home they completed last fall. The program was created with help through MentorLinks.
MentorLinks grant recipients accomplish so much with the help of their mentors that the two-year process seems almost magical.
But no tricks are involved. MentorLinks mentors simply bring experience, know-how, objectivity and confidence to their collaborations with mentees who are persistent and hard working.
The formula works. All nine of the most recent cohort of mentees completed their main objectives of starting new technician education programs. When they first met their mentors in 2008, these goals seemed like a stretch. Several mentees, however, accomplished additional "dream" goals by the time their MentorLinks grants ended at the end of 2010.
“This grant has been invaluable to us in terms of making contacts, reaching out to other people, finding out what best practices are,” said Deborah Davis, assistant professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Kentucky.
Apply for MentorLinks grants for technician education
Heeding the advice of her mentor, Lisa Siedman—director of the biotechnology program director at Madison Area Technical College (Wisconsin)—Davis made meaningful contacts with biotech employers in central Kentucky and crafted a curriculum to meet their expectations for technicians.
Davis also obtained a $207,000 grant through the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Advanced Technological Education program to create 2+2+2 pathways among high schools, the community college and universities. Davis, who was a new faculty member when she applied for MentorLinks, is now involved in setting Kentucky's biotechnician skill standards based on what she learned during the professional development activities funded by the MentorLinks grant.
Taking smart risks
Other mentees have had progressively successful experiences as they learned from their mentors how to take good, educated risks. Neosho County Community College (NCCC) in Kansas planned to add a weatherization program after developing a dual-credit certificate and degree program in construction technology with a local high school. Mentor Spencer Hinkle—a building construction technology instructor at Portland Community College (Oregon)—suggested a more ambitious certificate and degree program in energy management and sustainable energy.
One of the energy program's pathways teaches students to be energy auditors. By 2010, the program was attracting students and attention as the only Kansas community college program that met the requirements for energy auditors to work for the Efficiency Kansas low-cost loan program.
"We would not have done this without MentorLinks," said Bobbie Forrest, the NCCC construction technology instructor Hinkle mentored.
The construction technology program has also been very successful. Dual-enrolled construction technology students have built two Energy Star-rated, disability-accessible homes for low-income families. Their next service learning project is constructing cabins for a state park.
David Thompson secured $595,000 in grants for energy program development as a result of MentorLinks. He was also promoted to chairman of the science and technology division of West Virginia University at Parkersburg during MentorLinks. The community college, which offers both associate and bachelor's degrees, was designated a solar energy training center for West Virginia and the Mid-Ohio River Valley.
Thompson attributes his success to his MentorLinks mentor, Roger Ebbage, who suggested to Thompson to focus first on energy efficiency programs. In his MentorLinks application, Thompson requested help starting renewable energy programs. Ebbage, director of the Northwest Energy Education Institute at Lane Community College (Oregon), thought renewable energy programs might be too difficult to sell to students and industry in coal country. So the effort began with an energy assessment and management program that has multiple certificates that transfer to associate and bachelor degree programs. That smoothed the way for the solar technician certificate and degree program that is now running.
Jane Cape, dean of business and applied technologies at Clark State Community College (Ohio), established two internship programs that embed students and faculty members at an Ohio high-tech research organization and at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In the process of working toward winning the state’s approval for a new information assurance degree program, Cape and Dan Heighton, a professor of computer networking and cybersecurity, created nine new courses in 18 months.
Even with the assistance of their mentor Ann Beheler—vice president of academic services at Porterville College and principal investigator of the Convergence Technology Center at Collin College in Texas—and the significant involvement of Avetec, a not-for-profit public benefit research organization, Heighton noted "grant initiatives take a great deal of faculty and administrative time."
Pushing through rough patches
MentorLinks has not been immune to challenges such as personnel changes and other issues. During rough patches, well-placed nudges from the American Association of Community Colleges—which manages MentorLinks—and the imprimatur of NSF have helped projects regain momentum toward their goals. Despite some significant difficulties, every MentorLinks college has completed the program.
By their second year in the program, most MentorLinks grant recipients seemed determined to leverage the relatively small MentorLinks grants into larger grants and more ambitious programs.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about the passion. It’s about doing the things that need to be done for the students," said Vince DiNoto, dean of college and systemic initiatives at Jefferson Community and Technical College (Kentucky), who thinks MentorLinks' structure encourages visionary thinking and successful execution of plans. DiNoto was initially a mentee and later twice served as a mentor in the program.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges