What’s hot: Electric vehicles, drones and more

By Madeline Patton

Emerging technology trends are always evident in Mentor-Connect teams’ proposals.

This summer, 21 faculty-led teams from two-year colleges are continuing to receive Mentor-Connect mentoring to sharpen their ideas for innovations in technician education fields ranging from hydroponic agriculture to autonomous vehicles. (See sidebar at end of this article for Mentor-Connect resources and information.)

Electric vehicle (EV) technologies are the very hottest topic among this year’s Mentor-Connect cohort with five mentee colleges working on proposals with distinct approaches for starting EV maintenance technician programs.

“I’m encouraging people to make stand-alone degrees for electric vehicles however they name it … I think a dedicated degree that addresses electric vehicles is where it ought to be,” said Ken Mays, a Mentor-Connect mentor to two colleges and a resource for the other colleges.

Vicki S. Jeppesen, director of resource development at Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in Wisconsin, is mentoring one college on the development of a sustainable transportation services program and another on the creation of an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program.

Jeppesen, who is also executive director of the NTC Foundation and NTC Property Foundation, is encouraging both of her mentee teams to make their programs adaptable for other educational institutions and to use what they are learning during the proposal-writing process to assist other programs at their colleges.

Jeppesen’s specific advice for the transportation program team is “to strengthen their collaboration with industry, to provide laddered credentials that strengthen the skill sets, and to identify credentials that can also train the current workforce (their alumni in particular) for this increasing need.”

A growing national interest in EV

As EV manufacturing ramps up, Mays said demand for EV maintenance technicians is expected to double annually. This particular STEM workforce demand has the potential to drive enrollment growth at community colleges because EVs require technicians who “understand a whole different way of testing and repairing” vehicles. Mays is a professor of automotive technologies and director of the program at Central Oregon Community College.

Since receiving Mentor-Connect mentoring in 2014 to prepare the proposal for the Northwest Engineering and Vehicle Technology Exchange project – his first Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant from the National Science Foundation – Mays has become a national leader in the development of EV maintenance technology programs.

The success of his first ATE grant led to another ATE grant for the Northwest Engineering and Vehicle Technology Exchange (NEVTEX), a collaboration with John Frala, another 2014 Mentor-Connect alumnus. Frala is a professor and coordinator of alternative fuel and EV programs at Rio Hondo College in California. NEVTEX’s development of credentials for West Coast community colleges expanded with industry partnerships and has resulted in the creation of national EV technician skill standards and certifications.

Based on what he has learned as the principal investigator of those two ATE grants, Mays advises the automotive technology faculty he is mentoring to learn new technical skills and attain EV certifications, and to build their programs by reaching populations historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

“You can’t just say ‘We’re going to introduce the technology’ … without trying to introduce diversity into your region. You’ve got to do both together,” he said. It’s a challenge he’s tackled with his ATE grants, and he proudly reports that 25% of Central Oregon’s EV students are women.

Myriad applications

For her mentees working on the UAS proposal, Jeppesen is urging them to think broadly about how UASs, or drones, could be used in their community. UAS use in agriculture is the focus of the team’s small project in the program track for institutions that are new to ATE.

“Due to the vastness of their region, UASs will expand the work the workforce can do with more efficiencies. I have been encouraging this team to showcase the multiple technician positions that can adapt and apply the skill sets their new program will offer. By exposing people to the technology and aligning the learning with the work, they will be able to grow the awareness and use of this expanding technology from hobbyists to users who can have a positive environmental and workforce impact,” she explained.

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Mentor-Connect offers free grant-writing resources

Mentor-Connect is a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education project hosted by Florence-Darlington Technical College in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges.

The application for the 2023 cohort of Mentor-Connect colleges will be available in July at https://www.mentor-connect.org.

Webinars and numerous other free resources to help community college faculty prepare effective grant proposals are available from Mentor-Connect’s library.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Madeline Patton

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.