National Science Foundation - A Long Time Supporter of Technician Education in Florida

As is often the case, the best of friends just want you to succeed and work quietly in the background to make that happen. The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education program (NSF ATE) is exactly that type of friend to Florida technician education. Since NSF ATE began working with two year technician education programs in 1991, the beginning of 2012 is an appropriate time to look back over the last 20 years to see why NSF-ATE is such a good friend to Florida technician education.

NSF-ATE grant activities began slowly at first with their 25th award going to Robert Aitken at Brevard Community College in 1994. This award supported a planning grant for an ATE National Center of Excellence with the mission to link two year colleges through their involvement with, and long-term specialized instructional support for nine NASA field centers. The grant funds were aimed at establishing a national clearinghouse for curricular and faculty development programs, as well as educational media supporting these programs to infuse science and mathematics into technological education programs.

Alexander Dickison at Seminole State College, formerly Seminole Community College, was one of the 61 nationwide NSF-ATE grant awardees 1995. This $470,000 NSF-supported project developed new curriculum, and incorporated what is now known through studies in cognitive science, teaching strategies that will improve student learning. These modules are designed to motivate and help technical students see the connections between physics and their chosen technical fields.

In 1996, NSF-ATE provided $250,000 to Broward Community College for a project proposed by Louis Friedman that allowed BCC to lead a consortium composed of the University of Miami, Broward County Schools, N. Broward Hospital District, Hewlett Packard, Advantage Medical Electronics, Motorola, ABC Computers, Asea Brown Boveri Corp., and the Biomedical Engineering Technology (BMET) Advisory Board in developing a program in BMET. The goal of the project was to produce qualified Biomedical Engineering technicians who provide a critical link between the clinical application and the electronic technology of modern medical equipment. Laboratories and laboratory practices were developed to give the students state-of-the-art experiences with a wide range of biomedical equipment.

In 1997 Bob Williams at Daytona State College, formerly Daytona Beach Community College, received a $550,000 grant from NSF ATE to create a new instructional environment for introductory classes in electronics, computer aided design, civil engineering and computer programming. This new environment addressed the various learning modalities, diverse schedules and lifestyles of the non-traditional students found in ever increasing numbers at institutions nationwide. The virtual classroom permitted students to access computer technology and electronics courses at any time and from any place through the resources and capabilities of the internet and the World Wide Web.

At this point in this review, the trend should be clear. Faculty members in Florida’s technician preparation programs have great ideas and NSF-ATE is prepared to back those ideas with the funds to turn good ideas into best education practices for Florida and the nation. However, this is only the beginning. From 1997 through 2001 NSF-ATE accelerates its support of A.S. technical education in Florida. In 1998 William Falls at Hillsborough Community College was awarded a $300,000 grant to create a practical, hands-on applied learning experience for students enrolled in courses of aquaculture, environmental science technology (EST), economics/business and humanities programs of the College, and in 1999 Valencia College, formerly Valencia Community College, was awarded a 1.1 million dollar grant by NSF-ATE to coordinate the development with a major semiconductor manufacturer and five other community colleges in Florida an education-business alliance known as the Tech-4 High-Technology Industrial Education Consortium. Tech-4 designed and delivered a collaborative, replicable electronics workforce development system that maximized learning for secondary and lower-division students through coordinated sharing of industry and educational resources.

As the first decade of NSF-ATE came to a close, the turn of the century saw another grant for Valencia State College with NSF ATE providing $580,000 in support of Colin Archibald’s idea to create a comprehensive information technology workforce development system aimed at increasing the number of skilled computer programming technicians with maximized advanced education and career options. Daytona State College received another NSF ATE grant that provided $550,000 to support Bob Williams’ idea to create the Southeast Center for Networking and Information Technology Education. The Center develops curricula, processes, and infrastructure to improve programs, and creates a statewide delivery system to educate and train technicians to meet workforce shortages in computer networking and information technology. Finally, in 2001 Brevard Community College received two additional grants totaling $610,000 to develop a curriculum on Distributed Energy Systems and create a collaboration to increase the number and diversity of prospective K-12 teachers at BCC by providing opportunities to improve technological literacy, strengthen science and mathematics preparation, transfer seamlessly to a four-year program, and connect with business and industry.

The last grant to a Florida community college in NSF-ATE’s first 10 years of operation went to the same college and faculty member that received Florida’s second NSF-ATE grant. That $300,000 award went to Alexander Dickison at Seminole State College. The funds were used to expand on his very popular and widely used physics curriculum.

So that’s a brief summary of the first 10 years of NSF ATE’s support of Florida technical education. A quick glance through the grants and grant amounts clearly backs the original premise. You can find out more about the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program of the National Science Foundation at www.nsf.gov/ate, where you can download their call for proposals. Full proposals are annually due in October. You can contact any of the listed program officers. or contact Marilyn Barger at FLATE (barger@fl-ate.org) if you have an idea for a proposal you want to discuss. NSF ATE is a quiet, continuous supporter and has invested millions of dollars to help Florida’s technical education system reach its potential. That was only the first 10 years, next month we will, to borrow a phrase from Paul Harvey, bring you “the rest of the story.”