Engineering Technology Grads from Florida Offer Insights on the NSF ATE PI Conference

The National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program is geared to
improve the education and training of technicians who work in high-technology fields that drive the nation’s economy. ATE grants support a variety of programs that strengthen STEM education and promotes two-year technician programs at the undergraduate and secondary school level. There are currently 42 ATE Centers across the nation that support a variety of activities that include developing and testing innovative materials, courses, curricula, teaching methods, and/or analyzing workforce/educational needs in different technical fields, and designing programs and pathways to match current industry needs. This diverse community of NSF-funded ATE Centers convenes every year in Washington DC for the NSF ATE PI Conference. The Conference serves as a hotspot for ATE Centers from across the nation to share ideas and best practices, and features sessions, workshops and keynote addresses and best practices for advanced technological education.

Every year FLATE sponsors current and/or past graduate students from the consortium of state and
community colleges offering the A.S degree in Engineering Technology to attend the NSF ATE PI Conference. This year Ryan Alexander Horton and Alejandro Rojas, both engineering technology graduates from Hillsborough Community College, were selected to attend the Conference in Washington D.C. “My reason for going to DC was to learn about what ATE does and how they help community colleges” said Alejandro Rojas who is currently pursuing an A.S degree in Engineering Technology and working at Adams Air & Hydraulics, Inc. in Tampa. “Being invited to the ATE Conference in Washington, D.C. was one of the greatest opportunities I’ve been able to receive throughout my life” said Ryan Horton who is currently pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Central Florida.

The three day conference provided diverse opportunities for both students. “One of the best aspects was
networking with numerous company representatives and leaders, and being able to hear what they look for in prospective employees and introspectively making sure I can live up to those standards” said Ryan. Their foray into the Conference began with an informal ‘meet and greet,’ and an exploration of Washington DC. At the Student Alumni Breakfast both Alejandro and Ryan along with other students from across the nation were formally, recognized by Dr. Celeste Carter and David Campbell from the National Science Foundation, for their achievements in the ATE recognized programs. Alejandro and Ryan also participated in the ‘Industry Speed Networking’ session for ATE students. The session was designed to facilitate introductions with business/industry representatives and student participants, and provided students an opportunity to meet business professionals from a variety of background and companies.

Alejandro and Ryan’s student showcase session featured NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium
Engineering Challenge 2016 projects in robotics, rocketry, and weather balloon research, and also engineering technologies laboratory projects in electromechanical, hydraulics and pneumatics, robotics, CAD, motors and controls, programmable logic controller (PLC), and automated process control. “My experience was amazing” said Alejandro, as he learned and drew comparisons from various projects that other schools had worked on. What caught Alejandro’s interest was an app being developed to build proteins/elements for future class courses, and also drones and how they are being used to map and follow people, or objects for better information and tracking.

To round off their educationally and professionally stimulating experience, the American Association for Community Colleges (AACC) offered a complimentary tour, to ATE students and alumni, of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, the White House, Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol amongst other important landmarks around Washington, DC. “Alejandro & Ryan did a great job promoting HCC ET program and engineering club showing a variety of projects and hands-on application related to the ET program” said Danielly Orozco, Associate Director for FLATE, who took a leading role in organizing the trip for the students.

Florida was well represented at the Conference. FLATE had a booth at the Conference showcasing
some of its award-winning innovative curriculum, outreach and professional development programs to support Florida’s manufacturing educational and workforce needs. The showcase session also provided a platform for FLATE to share its expertise and knowledge in developing a manufacturing education Community of Practice including education, government and industry partners. “Seeing all the students driving themselves forward in the numerous fields of STEM gives me pride in knowing that these are the individuals I will be working with in the future to solve the issues our nation and world face in the upcoming years” said Ryan. Alejandro’s biggest takeaway was a personal insight about the need to update and improve skills in a dynamic, technologically evolving environment.

Other Community/State Colleges from Florida that were present at the Conference included Lake Sumter
State College which had a student booth showcasing general electrical generation, transmission and distribution process of electricity as it is supplied on a daily basis, protective relay used in substation for transmission of electrical power and functions. Valencia College and Palm Beach State College also had a student booth displaying different STEM projects. Florida State University’s showcase session featured assessment of information technology educational pathways that promote deployment and use of rural broadband. Student display from Seminole State College’s EMERGE program included their work in establishing effective means to renewable/green energy. One of FLATE’s strategic partners, the USF-PathTech LIFE project based at the University of South Florida also had a booth showcasing its work with the National Survey of Engineering Technology students and its collaboration with FLATE in distributing a student survey to six partner ATE centers.

Other Florida-based showcase sessions included one from Indian River State College’s RCNET program, University of Central Florida’s OP-TEC program, the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education program, SpaceTEC, the National Resource Center for Aerospace Technical Education at Eastern Florida State College, and Daytona State College’s Advanced Cyberforensics Education Consortium. For more information about the NSF ATE projects and centers visit www.atecenters.org. For information on FLATE and other NSF ATE Centers, projects and activities contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit http://fl-ate.org/programs/ate-centers.