From the Executive Director's Desk: Following the NSF Money Trail

As many of you know, the National Science Foundation has funded FLATE for many years. Between
writing, implementing, and reviewing proposals for all sizes and kinds of projects, I thought there was not too much we didn’t already know about NSF. However, when NSF announced that it was “coming to town” for one of its regular grants workshops, I decided to attend. The two-day event provided an enormous amount of information presented in very interactive, intense sessions so attendees could ask a lot of questions – which we all did.   There was the expected bountiful information about ongoing and new programs in the different disciplinary directorates; the nuts and bolts about FastLane, (www.flastlane.nsf.gov) including a few ‘NEW’ nuts and bolts we needed to know and learn about; hot tips from the Inspector General’s office about how to avoid a permanent position inside a federal penitentiary; fine details about the “gold standard” NSF merit review process; and a lot of what’s new in policies and procedures.  It was fascinating to hear that a lot of what is “new” in the policy arena is driven by efforts of the federal government to have more policy and procedural consistency across its many funding agencies.

Although there was a lot to learn about what is new and what is changing that affects FLATE, I decided to slip
away to the “dark side” for one breakout session to attend the breakout session on “Award Cash Management Service (ACM$) and Financial Reporting.” Wow – it was truly amazing! I did almost leave when the presenter asked if there are any principal investigators in the room and kindly suggested that the few of us who raised our hands, might not really want to be in his session. FLATE has a good relationship with our college Grants Accounting team and thought I knew what they “did” for us, so decided to stay, despite the warning.  But, when you are talking about all of NSF and billions of dollars, my perception of us “shaking coins out of the NSF piggy bank” was only about 5% of what goes on. 

The most impressive thing shared in that session (truly, it was hard to keep up with all the foreign acronyms) was that in Fall 2014, NSF had gone a cash system that was truly “real time,” or in manufacturing lingo, “just in time”.  What does this mean? It meant that NSF (and the federal government) wanted all the thousands of awardees to draw down cash in real time. It does not want to be a “bank”. Typically, colleges and universities invoice NSF on a regular basis – quarterly, monthly, etc., but daily, or weekly would have been thought to be too often. The advantage of “real time” is that NSF gets to know better what money is where. The goal is for all colleges to perpetually be in the theoretically happy state of being “owed” no money from NSF during award periods. I was thinking that it might be like a “debit” card rather than a “credit card”. You swipe it and the money is gone from NSF instantly. No more collecting invoices for a period of time, aggregating them, and then submitting a request to NSF.  The concept is a bit mind boggling for our own grant and gave me a bit of a headache thinking about a lot of grants taking money out of the NSF “bank” simultaneously, 24/7 for everything including “payroll” with all its burden to miscellaneous transactions typically done with petty cash. 

Although the system is in place, it’s not being utilized to its full capabilities yet. The amount of money that NSF owes
grantees on average at any one moment has gone down appreciably in the past months; there is still a long way to go.  To that end, this Office of Cash Management is doing some “tests,” or “snapshots” on small groups of grantees to see how they are doing based on sophisticated statistical sampling strategies. I was captivated, but not enough to apply to join the NSF financial or audit teams. However, they were truly amazingly smart and amazingly friendly.
    
Well, there was so much more. You can find the presentations (unfortunately there is no recording of the rich dialogue) from all the sessions at this conference website (https://www.signup4.net/public/ap.aspx?EID=NATI606E&OID=160), and I highly recommend attending future NSF Grants Workshop to anyone who has, or wants to have funding from the NSF. I also recommend for good “summer” reading in the newest Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide. (http://nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=papp).

Following up from the Spring Engineering Technology Forum NSF ATE Workshop and this workshop, FLATE will
be hosting an informal Q and A online meeting on Tuesday June 30 at 2 p.m. for anyone who wants to ask questions about proposals they are currently writing for the October 2015 ATE submission deadline.  Please email me if you would like to join – I will confirm the online meeting and send connection information to all who contact us.  There will be no formal agenda – just Q and A about your NSF ATE proposals.

Stepping aside from the NSF money talk trail, we have a full supply of stories in this edition of the FLATE Focus. June is when our summer robotics camps on site and across the state kicks into full gear. Be sure to read up on all that we have in store for our campers across the state. Continuing our focus on Women in STEM, we’ve brought you a story highlighting recent STEP awardees who continue to make a mark in their field. This edition also brings you a fresh sTEm puzzle, updates on robotics teams across the state and highlights from the recent FLATE-FESC Job Task Analysis workshop. These and much more in this edition of the FLATE Focus…..we hope you enjoy the stories. 

STEM Enthusiasts Get Ready to Attend FLATE Robotics Camps

It’s June!, which also means FLATE’s robotics camps season is at hand. This year many new and returning campers are looking forward to a summer full of adventure and fun learning how to program robots as they work to solve several thought-provoking STEM related challenges using robots. For campers like MacKenzie Evans, who is returning to attend the intermediate camp, the camp promises to be another exciting learning experience…one that is sure to set her on another path of innovation.

Evans attended the 'all girls' camp last summer thanks to a scholarship from the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation. This past year, Evans worked closely with FLATE’s outreach manager and camp director, Desh Bagley, on a class-
related science project to come up with a new invention to help save electricity, reduce global warming and help polar bears. Inspired by her exposure to robotics and powered by her knowledge about sensors that she learned to program during last year’s intro camp, Evans designed a system that could detect motion and turn the light on, or off in a room based on sensors that could detect human motion. Instead of having lights turn off due to lack of movement, Evans programmed the sensor to simulate a system in which lights turned off due to lack of carbon dioxide in the air.

Indeed, FLATE’s robotics camps have proven to be inspirational on many levels, and represent a ‘hands-on, minds-on’ approach to showcasing the applications of STEM in real-world settings. During the weeklong program, campers will engage in various challenges, building and program Lego® Mindstorms® EV3 Robots. Working in a predominantly team-based environment, campers will learn how to reconfigure and program LEGO® Mindstorms® EV3 robots. They will also learn about 3D printing techniques, and write programs to operate the NAO humanoid robot.

The high school camp is also poised to provide an intellectually charged experience. Campers will use Solidworks
and CAD to design a functional robotic arm. They will learn about 3D printing processes using additive manufacturing techniques, and program an Arduino microprocessor to operate servo motors. Thanks to the support of Nuts, Bolts, and Thingamajigs, the Foundation for the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, the high school campers will be able to keep the Arduino microprocessors and 3D printed projects that they create during the camp.

The model for FLATE’s the state-of-the-art robotics camps has been replicated across the state and the nation, and just like in the case of MacKenzie Evans, the camps continue to serve as a platform to inspire students to become innovative thinkers, and pursue STEM careers that can support manufacturing and high-tech industries in Florida. Cost for each, week-long camp is $175. This year’s schedule and list of camp offerings both on-site and across the state are posted on the FLATE homepage at www.fl-ate.org/projects/camps.html, on www.madeinflorida.org, and also on the side bar of the newsletter. So, if you haven’t already, be sure to recommend and/or sign up for one of the camps, as space is limited. You can also contact Desh Bagley at camps@fl-ate.org and Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, for more information.

STEP Awards Empower Women to Assume Leadership Roles in STEM

FLATE’s effort to promote excellence in manufacturing has strongly impacted the face of technician education
and training across Florida. The Center’s role in redefining engineering education in Florida has had a remarkable effect in outlining local workforce needs by building crosswalks between industry and education. One of its strategic objectives has also been to educate, recruit and train women and girls about high-tech manufacturing and in the same vein encourage them to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM fields.

In-step with this objective, this month we take a look at two women who have taken a leading role in defining women in STEM. Tina Featherstone and Beth Walters were recent recipients of the Manufacturing Institute’s, STEP Ahead, Women in Manufacturing Award. The Award recognizes women across the nation for their contributions and empowering leadership roles in manufacturing education and training.

What makes Walters and Featherstone stand out from the crowd is their commitment to promoting excellence in
manufacturing. Beth Walters, senior vice president of communications and investor relations at Jabil, a global manufacturing services company based in St. Petersburg, FL., started working at Jabil in 1992. Walters says she had no prior experience in manufacturing, but in the 23 years she’s been engaged in manufacturing, she has found fulfillment by ensuring “other women are recognized” and “have successful careers in manufacturing.” Featherstone shares a similar passion. She currently serves as a procurement system analyst at CONMED Corporation, a high-tech manufacturer  in Largo, FL, and one of FLATE's strategic industry partners for several years. Featherstone has been engaged in manufacturing for the last 21 years. In addition to what she does in her everyday job working to develop new products, Featherstone’s inspiration to remain engaged and excel in manufacturing also lies in her belief to be recognized as a “woman leader who is capable of doing anything.”

Walters and Featherstone are committed to be engaged in STEM and manufacturing, especially for more women to
be a part of the high-tech workforce. “Diversity makes team stronger” said Walters who stated her individual experience as a woman in manufacturing has been sprinkled with a rewarding and successful  career that at times were also confronted by challenges of breaking down barriers. Adding to that thought, Featherstone alluded to a common misperception of manufacturing as bare factory floors, when in reality she outlined manufacturing as a powerhouse for interesting opportunities and satisfying careers. Featherstone also pointed to women as “great problem solvers” and how this attribute can be applied in a manufacturing setting. “Math and Science are certainly not just for boys.” From working in a cosmetic company to create the best moisturizers, to cleaning up oil spills “the possibilities are endless” for women engineers and scientists in manufacturing, said Featherstone.

Since the award, both women have enjoyed top recognition at their respective organizations. At
CONMED, Featherstone’s award was recognized on a company-wide level. CONMED is also a big supporter of STEM programs, and has two management level representatives on FLATE’s industrial advisory committee to support FLATE’s STEM-based programs. The company will also be joining FLATE in hosting Manufacturing Day tours later this year, and participating in FLATE’s robotics camps by hosting industry tours. Walters has also received equal recognition at Jabil from the CEO, CFO, COO and President of Jabil, with special mentions in the company blog, social media profiles and media interviews. Following the Awards, Walters has also started Jabil Joules, a female networking resource group, and expanded the program on a global level within the company.

Looking ahead, Featherstone and Walters hope to pave the path for additional women to receive recognition and serve as STEP ambassadors in the coming years. Recounting her experience, Walters stated she “enjoyed getting to know and meet other women in manufacturing.” Both were also captivated by a “true sense of comradery” that Featherstone described representative of the lives of professional women “who strike a balance every day between work and family.

For more information on the STEP Ahead Awards for women in manufacturing visit the Manufacturing Institute website. To get additional tips and insight on engaging women in STEM read the FLATE Best Practice Guide on “Recruting and Retaining Girls inSTEM,” or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, or 813.259.6578. An audio recording of the most recent webinar on the same topic hosted by FLATE in partnership with MATEC will be available on a website. So be sure to check in at www.fl-ate.org. 

FLATE-FESC Job Task Analysis for the Smart Grid Technician Program


As part of a partnership with the Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC), FLATE coordinated an occupational analysis workshop for the Smart Grid Technician program in Florida, April 23 – 24 at Palm Beach State College. The workshop was facilitated by the Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center (ATEEC) and sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It was one of many Job Task Analysis (JTA) workshops being held across the country to better inform and guide our educational communities as they attempt to meet the emerging technician-level workforce demands in the area of energy technology.

Participants included 12 smart grid content experts - 8 from the education realm and 4 from industry. The workshop took place over two days with the goal of gathering input on the real-world tasks and functions of the Smart Grid Technician job. The JTA process analyzes an occupation systematically to identify the range of tasks required to perform a job.

JTA Process Steps:
  • Review the job description.
  • Review the definition of technician.
  • Brainstorm to identify occupational categories (general areas of responsibility).
  • Brainstorm to identify occupational tasks (specific job functions).
  • Review, refine, and prioritize the broad occupational categories.
  • Review, refine, and prioritize the job tasks/functions within each occupational categories.
  • Identify knowledge and skills (technical and employability).
  • Identify tools and equipment necessary for learning.
  • Review and refine job description and technician definition.
  • Participants will receive for review and approval, a draft occupational profile including all the above items.
  • Final occupational profile will be sent to wider local audience of experts in the field for validation.
During the Workshop, participants crafted this definition for Smart Grid Technician:

The SMART GRID TECHNICIAN installs, maintains, troubleshoots, repairs, replaces, updates, and configures smart grid-specific components, subsystems, and systems.

A Job Task List was also created highlighting the overall duties and tasks that comprise the position refer to the figure below




After the JTA Task List was completed, participants worked together to define the essential items that help workers to perform their duties and tasks, but that are NOT duties or tasks themselves:

TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, AND ATTRIBUTES (e.g. basic academic competencies, customer service, blueprint reading, computer programming)

EMPLOYABILITY KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, AND ATTRIBUTES (e.g. communication, critical thinking, people skills, personal effectiveness)

 TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT (e.g. basic technician tool kit, fiber optic tester, ammeters, communications interface, power quality monitors)

There is an immediate need to facilitate the development of a trained and skilled workforce capable of implementing a national clean-energy smart grid and providing for the next generation of skilled technicians, engineers and managers for the electric power industry. As the aging utility workforce moves toward retirement, it is essential to address these future shortages of skilled workers whose jobs are directly related to the national smart grid.

This effort will help inform future educational offerings as well as determining how best to target available resources to develop an education or training program that is based on local industry needs, and that will help educate our local community’s workforce. With the JTA results in hand, our next steps include using the information to develop an online labor market survey, targeted directly to local/regional business and industry that might employ smart grid workers in the Palm Beach region, or possibly conduct a Florida-wide survey to see if there are any other areas that may have Smart Grid technician jobs. Data on current and projected jobs will drive actual new program development at Florida state and community colleges. Additionally, FLATE and Palm Beach State College will be looking at alignment of the JTA results with the existing programs offered in engineering technology and electrical power technology and what courses need to be developed. 

To learn more about Smart Grid, visit https://www.smartgrid.gov/the_smart_grid. To read the full report visit http://flate.pbworks.com/w/page/90389384/2015FLATEPresentationsWebinarsandMeetingFiles. You can also contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at mbarger@hccfl.edu for more information. 

Florida High School High Tech Partners with FLATE for Manufacturing Experiences

Florida High School High Tech (HSHT) is excited about a new partnership with the Florida Advanced
Technological Education Center (FLATE). FLATE, a National Science Foundation Center of Excellence in high-technology manufacturing, is the go-to organization for manufacturing and advanced technical education, best practices, and resources supporting the high-performance skilled workforce for Florida’s manufacturing sectors. FLATE makes efforts to ensure every student is exposed to STEM-based opportunities – be it through the traditional classroom, problem-based, or experiential learning.


FLATE played a significant role during the 2014 HSHT Annual Conference, facilitating an industry tour for HSHT program coordinators at Southern Manufacturing Technologies — a high-tech manufacturer in Tampa. Desh Bagley, outreach manager for FLATE, also gave a presentation about FLATE’s statewide STEM-based programs and educational resources that the coordinators could access and incorporate as part of their HSHT teaching experiences throughout the school year.

More than 100 HSHT students participated in 2014 National Manufacturing Day, touring Custom Metal
Designs, Correct Craft Maker, Mitsubishi Power Systems of America, and Tallahassee Community College Advanced Manufacturing Training Center. This past fall, (as part of their effort to learn about high-tech industries and opportunities, establish local industry contacts, and chart a plan for future student career-based experiences) several HSHT coordinators toured FABCO Air, Gerdau, Budweiser, and Vistacon facilities.

FLATE introduced HSHT to the Toothpick Factory – a hands-on activity set in a manufacturing context – that stimulates discussion and awareness about a wide range of soft skills that are essential in today’s work and personal relationships. FLATE generously donated a set as a doorprize at the annual conference.

Florida HSHT recognizes the considerable opportunities in the field of manufacturing in the state of Florida for all students, and looks forward to a growing relationship with FLATE for the benefit of HSHT students.

by Allison Chase
Florida Grantor
Able Trust Publications

sTEm–at-Work Puzzle #49: Valve selection documentation

An inline valve for a pipe that pours acid into water in a small open top tank has to be selected and installed. The chemical process technician knows that the process of mixing acid and water raises the temperature of the solution. The tech also knows that even though, from a safety perspective, the acid is always added to the water to minimize splashing, the acid should pour into the tank slowly when the valve is initially opened. Finally, the technician also appreciates that different valve types are for different applications and in this case there are three possible value types that could be selected. After studying the expected performance curves below for the three valve candidates, the technician picks a valve, reviews the selection with the controls engineer, and then proceed to install that valve.
                                                                                                          
The Tech installed Valve PF-137. Yes or NO. Submit your answers below the blog, or on www.fl-ate.org