Mentor-Connect helps improve technician education programs

By Madeline Patton

A Utah college strengthened its agriculture program with the help of Mentor-Connect.

In the past two years, Snow College in Utah has revamped its agriculture program with support from a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) grant. That grant was made possible with Mentor-Connect’s guidance.

Mentor-Connect, an ATE project, provides mentoring, in-person and virtual technical support, and digital resources to help two-year college faculty prepare competitive ATE grant proposals. It is a partnership between the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College and the American Association of Community Colleges.

Seventy percent of the 63 Mentor-Connect colleges—including Snow College—that have submitted proposals to Small Grants for Institutions New to the ATE Program track have received funding.

If your college has not received an ATE grant in the past seven years or has never received an ATE grant, it is eligible for Mentor-Connect, which encourages applications from small colleges, rural colleges and colleges that serve populations underrepresented in STEM fields.

To be considered for the 2019 cohort complete the application by October 12. An orientation webinar will be held on September 13.

Rebuilding an agriculture program

The number of agriculture majors at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, had dropped to six in 2011. In fall 2017, 181 students took agriculture courses and Snow College had 128 declared agriculture majors.

Jay Olsen, director of Agriculture and Farm/Ranch Management at Snow College, attributes the change to two things: the college administration agreeing to revamp the program to meet the needs of family farmers and Mentor-Connect’s guidance.

“To me, it’s looking at the pieces of the puzzle, and re-configuring those pieces into programs,” Olsen said.

He credits questions from Osa Brand, a geographer who served as the college’s Mentor-Connect mentor, with helping him and others at the college clarify their thinking about how to incorporate new technologies into the agriculture curriculum.

The Agriculture Systems program, which they have devised with the support of the $198,671 ATE grant, includes entrepreneurship as well as diesel engine repair lessons.

Perhaps most importantly it teaches students to operate pivot irrigation systems, which use global positioning systems to apply water to crops prescriptively. The rapid expansion of water demands for residential and business developments is an enormous challenge for Utah farmers.

Students also learn to operate and repair unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, which farmers use to monitor irrigation systems, crops, and livestock.

“We’re still small,” Olsen said, reporting that 28 students were in the AAS program’s three inaugural courses in fall 2017 and 26 took the next two courses in spring 2018. Two stackable certificates are part of the degree that articulates to the Utah State University’s Agriculture Systems Technology Bachelor of Science degree program.

Olsen hopes enrollments will grow as a recruiter, whose salary is paid with the ATE grant, visits every Utah high school during 2018 to explain how the program prepares individuals to operate family farms efficiently, or to work as technicians for commercial farms or equipment dealers.

Madeline Patton

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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