PathTech Team at USF Analyzes Educational and Professional Trajectories of Engineering Technology Students


Educational choices and professional trajectories of students and incumbent workers are widely varied and open ended. Some are dictated by interest and aptitude, lure of a lucrative opportunity, while others are rooted in individuals’ quest for professional growth. To delve into the matter, and assist in a regional research initiative, FLATE, the National Science Foundation Center of Excellence at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon, has partnered with researchers at the University of South Florida’s department of sociology, anthropology and college of education to conduct research aimed at analyzing high school and community college students enrolled in engineering technology degrees and the reasoning(s) behind their chosen field of study.  

Successful Academic and Employment Pathways in Advanced Technologies, or PathTech, is part of the
National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program committed to support/fund community college programs that boost technician education across the nation. The grant targets high school and community college programs, and is devoted to researching pathways into technician education programs, gauge effectiveness of these programs, analyze outcomes of these targeted programs, and answer some of the questions that germinate from the ATE projects. Will Tyson, P.I. & associate professor of sociology at USF says the PathTech initiative is targeted to better equip local community colleges with information, not just academic, but personal experiences that lead students into enrolling in Engineering Technology (ET) programs and/or related courses, and possibly make recommendations on how community colleges can serve these audiences.

Target audience includes high school students, teachers, local community/technical colleges and local industries. “We’re not collecting all this information and sending it up an ivory tower” said Tyson. He hopes to inform colleagues in engineering technology about the scholarly importance of ET programs, stratification in education, and promote better understanding of challenges and transitions encountered by students in different educational contexts.

In all of this, partnerships have played an important role in advancing some of the goals and objectives of the PathTech initiative. Tyson describes the PathTech project as the beginning of a research agenda, and the
beginning of enduring partnerships in the Tampa bay area. PathTech represents a collaborative effort between several educational institutions in the region. Project partners include FLATE, Hillsborough Community College, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg College, Polk State College and the State College of Florida. “Our project partners have been extremely helpful in terms of helping us navigate the landscape of what are engineering technology programs, and defining ET students” Tyson said.

Furthermore, partnership with FLATE has afforded the team access to a broader academic and industry audience. FLATE’s Industrial Advisory Committee has served a pivotal role in connecting PathTech with local industries who occupy an important role in the engineering technology network. Tyson views FLATE as a model for what we (PathTech) wants to do/accomplish in terms of the broader impact the research can have. “Working with FLATE has enabled us to further our research, accomplish our goals, and promote these educational pathways” Tyson said. 

Stay tuned for the August edition of the FLATE Focus, where we will take a closer look at research methodologies employed by the PathTech team, and analyze results/findings from their pilot research. For information on PathTech visit http://sociology.usf.edu/pathtech, or contact Will Tyson at wtyson@usf.edu and Lakshmi Jayaram at ljayaram@usf.edu. For information on FLATE’s K-14 STEM based curriculum and professional development programs, visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org