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The time is right to get involved with the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program. Recently published articles (Time, July 20, 2009; and "Brainstorm," The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 27, 2009) and comments made by the administration indicate that community colleges can and do play a role in economic recovery, promote emerging energy technologies, and promote green technology. Also, it is evident that, after sixteen years, the ATE program plays an important role in developing the leadership capacity of two-year educational institutions and promoting collaboration among two-year schools, industry, government, four-year schools, and secondary schools for the purpose of providing an educated workforce.

The ATE Program
The ATE program focuses on two-year colleges and the education of technicians for high-technology fields driving the U.S. economy. The program emphasizes partnerships in which two-year colleges work with industry, four-year colleges and universities, secondary schools, and government agencies to keep education responsive to today's rapidly changing workplace. The program improves technological education by supporting:
  • Program improvement and curriculum development,
  • Professional development for college faculty and secondary school teachers,
  • Career pathways from secondary schools to two-year colleges and from two-year colleges to four-year colleges and universities,
  • Teacher preparation programs in two-year colleges,
  • Small grants for institutions that are new to the ATE program, and
  • Targeted research on technician education.
Parameters for Success
The success of the program can be attributed to the way it is managed by the National Science Foundation and the leadership provided by the ATE community.

As indicated in the program solicitation, the program requires two-year schools to collaborate and partner with industry, secondary education, governmental groups, and four-year schools for the purpose of providing an educated workforce. This means that industry is continually consulted and provides input on what students need to know to be valued and successful employees. Typically, this means that ATE-funded workforce programs have industry advisory boards; have industry employees helping with curriculum development and even teaching courses; have faculty and students doing internships in industry; and have student performance assessed based on a list of competencies developed by industry and faculty. The program also recognizes the importance of a strong background in the humanities.

The program's success is also due to the NSF's policy of merit review. All proposals are peer reviewed and peer driven. The best ideas and best-designed projects are supported and go on to produce strong, measurable results. Annual reports on the program indicate that tens of thousands of associate degree students, thousands of secondary school and baccalaureate degree students, and many incumbent workers are enrolled in ATE-supported programs. Additionally, every year tens of thousands of faculty from high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions participate in professional development activities. Millions of dollars in both cash and in-kind support is contributed by partners who value two-year technical education programs. For specific examples and information concerning the impact of ATE-funded centers and projects, visit http://www.atecenters.org/, http://ateprojectimpact.org/downloads/ATEProjectsPublication.pdf, or the individual center or project websites. Recent award information is provided at the NSF-ATE website (www.nsf.gov/ate).

The Best Ways to Get Involved
Volunteer to review for the program. Reviewing is probably the best way to understand what makes a competitive proposal and also allows you to meet leaders within the ATE community. If this is too daunting as a first activity, get in touch with awardees. This information can be found at the NSF-ATE website, at center and project websites, and in the publications mentioned above. Find out what workshops and meetings the principal investigators are offering and plan to attend. You will find that by working with the ATE community, you will be working with individuals who have developed some of the "best practices" for educating today's workforce and supporting emerging technologies.

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Marilyn Barger is Principal Investigator and Executive Director, FLATE, Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, Florida. For more information, contact Marilyn at mbarger@hccfl.edu.