Articles in Category: News

New Center Leaders are Mentor-Connect Alumnus

Mentor-Connect alumni Jonathan Beck and Thomas Biller are the principal investigator and co-principal investigator, respectively, of the newest ATE Center –the Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT).

Pictured from left to right: Curtis Zoller, Grant Writer/Administrator; Thomas Biller, Co-Principal Investigator; and Jonathan Beck, Principal Investigator during Mentor-Connect’s Cohort 2 Winter Workshop.
Mentor-Connect alumni Jonathan Beck and Thomas Biller are the principal investigator and co-principal investigator, respectively, of the newest ATE Center –the Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT) at Northland Community and Technical College’s Aerospace Campus in Minnesota.

Beck and Biller received Mentor-Connect mentoring in 2013-14 from Mel Cossette, principal investigator National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education (MatEdU) and a seven-year mentor for Mentor-Connect.

Their first ATE project was Revolutionary Opportunities for Highly Educated Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technicians (DUE #1501629).

The abstract for their second ATE grant—Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Geospatial Information Technology Integration into Technician Education (DUE #1700615) states “Northland has the only accredited UAS maintenance program in the country and has helped define nationally recognized credentials in partnership with American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and SpaceTEC. It launched the first two-year AAS degree program in the country in Geospatial Intelligence Analysis to respond to the growing need for technicians educated in this high demand career field and has recently created a small UAS Field Service Technician Program to develop the knowledge base in technical proficiencies required as small UAS are integrated into the national airspace system (NAS).”

The center grant is the third ATE grant that Beck is leading. Read more about the Center for Autonomous Technologies in this Community College Daily article.

Congratulations to Jonathan Beck and Thomas Biller, former @Mentor-Connect mentees (Cohort 2) featured in the photo along with their grant writer/administrator Curtis Zoller when they received formal mentoring from Mentor-Connect. They are the principal investigator and co-principal investigator, respectively, of the newest ATE Center –the Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT) at (@NorthlandCTC) Northland Community and Technical College’s Aerospace Campus in Minnesota. The center grant is the third ATE grant that Beck is leading. Read more about the Center for Autonomous Technologies in this Community College Daily article:

Summer Workshop Zooms In On Final Details for Proposal Submissions

In addition to one-on-one time with their mentors 20 faculty teams received granular-detail tips during Mentor-Connect’s Summer Technical Assistance and Grants Workshop on July 23 in St. Louis.

They heard from V. Celeste Carter and Thomas B. Higgins, two National Science Foundation program officers, three former Mentor-Connect mentees—Laura Berry of North Arkansas College, Justin Tickhill of North Central State College, and Ken Mays of Central Oregon Community College–whose ATE grants have instigated other positive changes on their campuses, as well as Mentor-Connect staff members.

All the speakers at the daylong workshop encouraged the mentees to submit their proposals to the Advanced Technological Education program in advance of the October 3 deadline.

To boost their confidence in the final stretch of proposal preparations, Mentor-Connect Evaluator David Hata shared the news that 15 of the 21 community colleges that received Mentor-Connect mentoring in 2018 have received funding awards from the National Science Foundation in the Small-Grants-for-Colleges-New-to ATE program track.

“We’re really, really excited about the success of Cohort 6,” Principal Investigator Elaine Craft said, referring to 2018 mentee teams who set a new one-year record of successful proposals for Mentor-Connect.

“Our success rate is about 70% and a lot of credit goes to our team of mentors,” Hata said. He also praised Mentor-Connect’s leadership team for making adjustments to the program in response to mentees’ and mentors’ comments and other data. “We’ve tried to improve the program each year,” he said.

Energy and enthusiasm was high among the mentees throughout the day’s panel discussions and team work sessions.

Skip Berry, assistant of Business, Information Systems and Technology at Riverside City College, was grateful for the question-and-answer session with the NSF program offices. “Their very direct feedback was very helpful,” he said.

Susan Ingersoll, professor and program director of Biotechnology at the Lake Nona Campus of Valencia Community College, was impressed by the expertise of her mentor Elaine Johnson and the other presenters. “They explain the nuances you wouldn’t get from a webinar or reading the PAPPG (Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide),” she said.  

Ron Umehira, dean of Career and Technical Education at Leeward Community College, thanked the Mentor-Connect for the opportunity to learn at the workshop and at the HI-TEC Conference, which the mentees are attending with support from the American Association of Community Colleges.

Craft’s wrap up message blended optimism with a strong nudge to finish strong: “We fully expect most of you to be implementing grants this time next year.”

Mentor-Connect Helped Northland Team Build ATE Network that Led to Center Grant

New Center PI with Mentor-Connect Mentor

Jonathan Beck, principal investigator of the recently funded National Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT) attributes the new center’s “systems of systems” approach for autonomous vehicle technicians to what he and other team members have learned from the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) community beginning with Mentor-Connect.

He credits Mel Cossette, who was the Mentor-Connect mentor of the Northland Community and Technical College team led by Beck in 2014, with setting those collaborative relationships in motion. Cossette, who is principal investigator of National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education (MatEdU), continues to serve as an informal advisor to the Northland team.

“She was instrumental in helping to guide us based on where we were going, what we were trying to accomplish, who good contacts would be for some of the core areas that we were trying to shape and grow through our small project, our large project, and ultimately the center. And without that guidance of those key points of contact as we formed our network, I don’t think we would have been successful on getting to where we are at with the ATE program. I think it is because of that constant mentoring, making sure our ideas were aligned to the program, and helping us identify those right resources that were already out there. That’s what’s allowed us to be so successful in such a short period of time,” Beck said during an interview at the 2019 HI-TEC Conference in St. Louis.  

Read the August 5 ATE Impacts Blog to learn more about the cross-discipline partnerships the new center plans to use to prepare technicians for careers working on unmanned vehicles that operate on land, sea, or air.

Mentor-Connect is led by the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges.

Congratulations to the 2020 selected Mentor Fellows

The Mentor Fellows internship program is an activity of the Mentor-Connect: Leadership Development and Outreach for ATE-2 project (DUE #1501183).

Congratulations to the 2020 selected Mentor Fellows

Jonathan Beck. Executive Director and PI, National Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT). I’ve worked in the Aerospace and Autonomous technology industries for 18 years.  My career has involved creating unmanned aircraft system programs across state and federal organizations and higher education. In 2011, Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, MN launched the nation’s first UAS maintenance program.  Over the past 8 years I have served on the leadership team at Northland, which has raised over $37 million in advancing autonomous technology education. I have led four NSF ATE awards as a Principal Investigator, working with a dedicated team to create professional development workshops, STEM engagement opportunities, educational pathways, industry partnerships and expanded educational resources in autonomous technologies.

Sharon Gusky. Principal Investigator for an NSF project entitled Engaging Students from Classrooms and Camps to College and Technical Careers. I am a professor of Biology at Northwestern Connecticut Community College where I have been teaching since 1998. I am a member of Mentor Connect’s first cohort of mentees and was awarded a New to ATE NSF grant to start a manufacturing program in 2014. I have served as a community college liaison for the EvaluATE Center and am a member of the National ATE Principal Investigators’ Conference Steering Committee. I am very active in Biology Education reform and currently serve as president of the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Richard Polanin.  Retired Professor and Program Chair of the Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Welding Technology programs at Illinois Central College, and Co-PI for Weld-Ed, the National Center for Welding Education and Training. I am also the PI for a Weld-Ed project in collaboration with the ASNT to identify NDT student learning outcomes. I hold Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Illinois State University and a Doctorate from the University of Illinois. I am a consultant in manufacturing engineering and welding engineering and inspection. I publish and provide presentations in the areas of manufacturing, robotics, and welding. I am a graduate of the Illinois Scholars program and a Certified Manufacturing Engineer and Certified Welding Inspector.

Diedre Sullivan. Director of the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center at Monterey Peninsula College. I have been with the organization since its inception (1997).  I conduct workforce studies, develop curricula and guidelines for marine occupations, and lead workshops.  As a college educator for 25 years, I have taught courses in Earth & marine science, GIS, and marine technology.  Prior to this I worked as a marine geologist, ran a marine science camp, and owned an underwater video company.  I received a lifetime achievement award in GIS education from the GeoTech Center and was inducted into the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame in 2014.  I currently sit on the Monterey County Water Resources Agency’s Board of Directors.

Tom Tubon. Faculty member at Madis on College and honorary research fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I teach Biotechnology courses in the Applied Associates Degree Biotechnology Program and the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program as well as Human Stem Cell Technologies courses. I have been involved with NSF ATE since 2009 and currently serve as the Principal Investigator for the ATE initiative for developing workforce-centered programming in Emerging Technologies to steer the development of a National Coordination Network for Cell and Tissue Manufacturing. I also have leadership roles in the NSF Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing (CMaT), the NSF OIA National Center for Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS), and the NSF ATE National InnovATEBIO Center for Biotechnology.

Mentor-Connect Hosted Winter Workshop in New Orleans, LA

The Regenerative Impact of Mentor- Connect

Mentor-Connect Hosted Winter Workshop in New Orleans, LA

2Mentor-Connect: A Leadership Development and Outreach Initiative for the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) community in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) hosted its annual Technical Assistance and Grant Writing Winter Workshop in New Orleans, LA at the Loews New Orleans Hotel on Wednesday, January 29 through Friday, January 31.

In attendance were, twenty-two college teams representing seventeen states and ninety participants including forty-five STEM faculty, nineteen grant writers, eleven mentors, five mentor fellows, two special guests, and eight Mentor-Connect/SCATE Center personnel. The team that traveled the furthest for the workshop was American Samoa Community College, located in Samoa, a United States territory. Other teams in the eighth cohort hailed from small, rural community colleges in North Dakota, Wyoming, Arkansas and larger, urban campuses in California, Illinois, and New York.

Over the three very intensive workshop days, Cohort Eight participants and others learned how to create and prepare successful proposals in an effort to increase their chances of receiving a grant from the NSF in the Small Grants for Institutions New to ATE track. Colleges are considered new to ATE if they have not received ATE funding in the past seven years. According to Emily Cash, Grants and Donor Relations Manager at Bismarck State College, [the workshop] was a great event, well-organized, and provided a ton of great information.”

4Topics, activities, and exercises covered included:

  • Day 1: Leadership Opportunity, Evaluation and Logic Models, Components of an ATE Proposal, and Writing a Competitive Proposal

  • Day 2: Mock Panel Review, Special Break-Out Session for grant writers and administrators, Transforming your Goals into a Work Plan, and Developing an Elevator Speech

  • Day 3: Defining Elements of Collaboration with your Mentor, and Delivering your Elevator Speech

Since 2012, Mentor-Connect has helped rural and urban two-year colleges — with large populations of students that have been historically underrepresented in STEM careers — build institutional capacity and faculty leadership skills through the process of preparing proposals to the NSF ATE program. 

6In addition to the aforementioned workshop, Cohort Eight participants will have periodic conference calls with their mentors and access to an online technical resource collection as well as will be attending a summer workshop, held in conjunction with the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference to continue to expand their knowledge about proposal development, NSF, and ATE. Mentor-Connect also plans to hold two webinars this year on projecting budgeting and specifically completing forms for an NSF ATE proposal.

Mentor-Connect is an ATE-funded project of the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence at Florence-Darlington Technical College, housed in the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology.

For more information about Mentor-Connect, visit our website at

SCATE Center Conducts S-STEM Tech Stars 2020 Spring Orientation

Tech Stars project contributes to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians

Students new to the Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC)’s S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Tech Stars Scholarship program participated this spring (February 12, 2020) in a more in-depth orientation. Supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Tech Stars allows FDTC to provide at least thirty scholarships annually to financially needy, academically talented students through the Virtual Cyber Generation Tech Stars (VCGTS) scholarship program.

IMG 7090The Tech Stars project contributes to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by assisting high achieving, low-income students with demonstrated need who major in one of the three related associate degree STEM programs within FDTC's Division of Technical and General Education, such as Computer Technology/Network Systems Management, Industrial Technologies, or Engineering Technologies.

The FDTC Tech Stars’ scholarship model combines both evidence-based and innovative new practices that will close the digital divide for diverse scholars and support cohesive student cohorts to advance students' knowledge and understanding of STEM careers and the skilled technical workplace. The model includes faculty mentoring, Z-Space laptop technical support, customized financial assistance, academic supports, personal coaching, and resource connections.

In an effort to ease students’ apprehension to finding FDTC’s resources and IMG 7114on-campus support, the Tech Stars Scholarship Program orientation, “Lunch and Learn” session was held on February 12, 2020, for approximate twenty-five Technology degree-seeking students. The session was organized so students could learn more about the Tech Star scholarship requirements, financial aid, personal responsibility, academic, and student support opportunities, résumé building, student internship opportunities, and more.

The South Carolina Advanced Technological Education (SCATE) Center of Excellence administers the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM grant program. “There have been some really great conversations at these sessions,” said Rick Roberts, Managing Director, SCATE. “A lot of their questions are about how students can become and remain involved, discover opportunities to connect with other students, on-campus support, access to internships, and a lot more. For us, the orientation help to keep the students on the proper path to guide their journey here at FDTC.” The Tech Stars’ orientation is the first step in building a cohort of students that can support and assist each other as they maneuver through the college experience.

IMG 7091Tech Star students that could not attend the orientation session or desire additional information can speak individually with Roberts to review program requirements and expectations as well as how to connect with internship opportunities from local and regional industry partners.

For more information about the Tech Stars Scholarship Program, please visit or call us at 843-676-8547.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-1003733. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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