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STEM Technician Students Surveyed About Remote Instruction

Marilyn Barger, Executive Director, Florida Advanced Technological Education Center, and Lakshmi Jayaram, President, Inquiry Research Group

During the recent “virtual” Spring Meeting of the Florida Forum on Engineering Technology, participants expressed concern about technician students’ experience in moving to remote instruction this semester due to COVID-19. Based on early reports from community college partners, the transition has been challenging, and some programs indicated students are even considering withdrawing from their programs. As one faculty member explained: “They have given up. [Students] feel they can’t do this online without support.” There was interest in discussing this topic further at the next ET Forum due to both the uncertainty related to the return of in-person instruction and the perceived need to improve student comfort and confidence in online learning. To help inform that discussion, the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE) and the Inquiry Research Group LLC teamed up to create a small pilot survey to collect some initial feedback from Florida technician students about their online experience this past semester.

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Episode 15: Working “Remotely”

In even the best of times, it’s a challenge keeping employers engaged and interested in supporting your college technical programs. We know that it is important for programs to maintain strong industry partnerships, but what does that look like in a rapidly changing business and education environment? For starters, it means cultivating a champion within companies, a champion who shares information about your program and its graduates and who can envision the ROI from engagement.

Jill Zande,  Associate Director and ROV Competition Coordinator for the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center at Monterey Peninsula College
May 2020 | 00:25:21

Episode 15 Transcript and Show Notes

Even in the best times, it can be a challenge keeping employers engaged and interested in supporting your college technical programs. We know that it is important for programs to maintain strong industry partnerships, but what does that look like in a rapidly changing business and education environment? For starters, it means cultivating a champion within companies, a champion who shares information about your program and its graduates and who can envision the return on investment from engagement. That ROI might be as simple as increased community visibility from event sponsorship or as multifaceted as future employee recruitment. In this episode, Jill Zande, Associate Director at the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center in Monterey, California examines how professional societies—in this case the Marine Technology Society—and companies can be champions for educational initiatives. She also discusses how sponsoring the ROV (underwater remotely operated vehicle) Competition World Championship each year provides both types of ROI.

NSF Grants Put Lane Community College Programs Ahead of the Curve

Brenda Cervantes, Project Specialist, Water & Energy Programs, Lane Community College, Eugene, OR

Technical careers require hands-on educational experiences and with an online curriculum the challenge is to provide students with that experiential component. In the past decade with funding through two NSF ATE grants, Lane Community College (LCC) transitioned its traditional classroom Energy Management program into an online instructional program with hands-on lab experiences available. The Independent Learner Energy Education Design project provides instruction in LCC’s online Energy Management (Building Controls Option) program coupled with fieldwork facilitated by regional power utility mentors.

Of particular interest, however, in this time when classrooms are going virtual to meet the needs of social distancing, is their transformed Water Conservation Technician (WCT) program, which has been moved to a completely online instructional environment.

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GeoTech Center Goes Virtual for Professional Development Conference

Vincent A. DiNoto Jr., Director and Principal Investigator of the National Geospatial Center of Excellence, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Louisville, KY

In response to COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gathering, the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech Center) has modified its conference and regional professional workshop delivery for the remainder of the year. This year, GeoTech will hold its annual GeoEd’20 Conference on June 9th and 10th in a virtual format for the first time in conference history, while keeping many of the features of past conferences.  There will continue to be sessions on a variety of topics in geospatial technologies.  Over the two days multiple concurrent sessions will be offered in two-hour blocks through interactive desktop video.  While the conference is entirely virtual, it will still have valuable content and pedagogy presented, cutting edge technologies discussed and times allocated for networking. In addition to the learning sessions, there will be keynote speakers during “a virtual luncheon” and a “virtual happy hour” session designed for participant networking.

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Episode 14: Delivering Automation at UPS

UPS has moved from standard motor control to PLCs, camera scanners, and mechanical devices, leading to increased efficiency and capacity. In response they’ve needed to double their staff of automation technicians and maintenance mechanics in some cases. New hires need to be multi-skilled, with troubleshooting, mechanical, and welding experience preferred, and be able to work under pressure, as David Ayala, Western Region Buildings and Systems Engineering Training Manager explains.

David Ayala, Western Region Buildings and Systems Engineering Training Manager for UPS
April 2020 | 00:18:56

Episode 14 Transcript and Show Notes

As the Western Region Buildings and Systems Engineering Training Manager at UPS, David Ayala has seen the company go from humans manually sorting packages by zip code—way back in 1999—to today’s increasingly automated processes. Moving from standard motor control to PLCs, camera scanners, and mechanical devices has increased efficiency, leading to increased capacity and the need to double their staff of automation technicians and maintenance mechanics in some cases. New hires need to be multi-skilled, with troubleshooting, mechanical, and welding experience preferred. Most importantly, they need to be able to perform reliably under pressure in an industry where time is a make-or-break factor. Predictive maintenance is one of the keys to successful operations at UPS.

UPS is a trademark of the United Parcel Service of America, Inc. and is used with the permission of the owner.

COVID-19, Higher-Ed, and What the Future Holds: The View from RCNET

Kevin Cooper, Principal Investigator, Regional Center for Nuclear Education and Training, Indian River State College

The rapid online response in education to the COVID-19 crisis was nothing short of amazing.  Seemingly overnight, all levels of education were required to shift from using a variety of methods to deliver instruction to remote learning.  The instantaneous learning curve and ramp for students, teachers, and administrators displayed the true will and adaptability of humankind.  We adapt, we overcome, and we prosper.

That said, humankind, given time, wants and will return to some state of normalcy. Within a month of “stay-in-place” orders in the United States, there are signs of adaption, acceptance, and safe socializing like quarantining.  As we go forward into the fall 2020 academic year, this need to adapt will hold especially true in education.  Remote learning may be preferred by those with certain learning styles, but for many others, learning is a social activity best done in person.  The social aspect of learning is particularly important in technician STEM fields where hands-on teamwork is a major part of a career.

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InnovATEBIO Goes Virtual to Reach Biotech Instructors and Students

Russ Read, Executive Director. National Center Biotechnology Workforce,
Forsyth Tech Community College, Winston-Salem, NC

Last fall, Austin Community College was awarded a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education program to create the National Biotechnology Education Center–InnovATEBIO–with partners in New York, California, Washington, North Carolina, and Wisconsin (see partners, below). The Center is addressing the rapidly growing need for highly skilled technicians by consolidating several biotech education projects into a national network to share best practices and expand research opportunities for students at two-year institutions.

Because of InnovATEBIO‘s collaborative structure, we know that we can offer quality instruction despite not being in the classroom face-to-face. In fact, through the sharing of data across the nation, we have the opportunity to find out more about what biotech programs are doing and share best practices, resources, and challenges.

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Episode 13: A Robot for Every Technician? A Look at Trends Driving Manufacturing

MARCH 2020 — In this episode, we check in on the evolution of those buzzword technologies driving manufacturing: automation, 5G, big data, AI, cybersecurity, machine learning and cobots. All of these technologies impact technician training. What do they really need to know? Will every technician need a cobot assigned to them? Our guests from the Association for Manufacturing Technology help us compare the hype behind some technologies with the timeline for thorough development and implementation.

In this episode, we check in on the evolution of those buzzword technologies driving manufacturing: automation, 5G, big data, AI, cybersecurity, machine learning and cobots. All of these technologies impact technician training.  What do they really need to know?  Will every technician need a cobot assigned to them?  Our guests from the Association for Manufacturing Technology help us compare the hype behind some technologies with the timeline for thorough development and implementation.  In other words, they help us understand technology in the service of the problem to be solved, not just technology for technology’s sake.

For example, it is getting progressively easier to teach robots how to do simple tasks and those tasks can be built upon.  Add data collection from the manufacturing process, correlate that data to errors, and then you potentially have information that allows tools to make decisions about the process. With AI:

              “We have our current working definition of a device that perceives this environment and takes action, then maximize the chance of success at some goal. So it’s an agent working for you, right? So you’ve trained this agent to do something for you and that requires your basic math software and domain knowledge to solve the very, very specific goal. So when we hear the thoughts of everyone should be doing AI, hold on a second. Yeah, let’s pump the brakes a little bit. What is the true need and then is AI an actual tool to help you solve that need?”

Solving Future Labor Gaps by Engaging Students Early

Emily McGrath, Director of Workforce Development, NextFlex

While a lot of the current focus on the availability of highly skilled manufacturing technicians in the future revolves around the creation of educational pathways, NextFlex realized that wasn’t enough. NextFlex , a consortium that supports the Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) manufacturing ecosystem, conducted a labor study to determine the need for new types of future talent for emerging jobs that don’t yet exist. FHE technology combines printed electronics with traditional semiconductor integrated circuits to create a new type of electronics that are thin, bendable, and wearable for applications including medical devices, printed antennas, soft robotics, and asset monitoring systems.

How do you solve a future labor gap?

The first problem isn’t that pathways don’t exist, it’s that the students aren’t aware of, or interested in, the advanced manufacturing sector to begin with. To tackle this problem, NextFlex developed FlexFactor, a project-based learning program for K-12 students. FlexFactor connects schools, colleges, and a variety of industry partners in new ways to excite students and raise awareness about the education and career pathways that lead to advanced manufacturing jobs. FlexFactor invites both higher education and industry into the classroom to engage with their future talent pool at a critical point in students’ lives.

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Episode 12: Agility and Resilience in the Modern Workforce

DECEMBER 2019 — What are employers looking for in a technician candidate? And how do they find those new hires? One approach, used at BRP, Inc., involves a partnership between several companies and Gateway Technical College. Together they’ve developed a one-year Motorcycle, Marine, and Outdoor Power Product program that feeds the local technician pipeline.

Amanda Falvey, Director of Human Resources, BRP Marine Group
December 2019 | 00:17:22
Episode 12 Transcript and Show Notes

What are employers looking for in a technician candidate? And how do they find those new hires? One approach, used at BRP, Inc., involves a partnership between several companies and Gateway Technical College. Together they’ve developed a one-year Motorcycle, Marine, and Outdoor Power Product program that feeds the local technician pipeline. As with most employers, what they’re looking for is hands-on experience but also a willingness to learn. Do they bring the immediate skills that they need in order to be successful in a role? Do they bring the ability and knowledge to transform and come on that journey with as the company changes?

Project Facilitates Regional Convening on Future of Work

The nature of work is changing right before our eyes. The effects of accelerating technology advancements on the technician workforce are posing challenges and opportunities for community colleges whose mission includes preparing STEM technicians for the uncertain work of the future. Conversations between educators and employers are underway across the country to identify the cross-cutting knowledge and skills that will be required of STEM technicians and determine how best to equip them to remain competitive in the future workplace.

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Episode 11: The Customer: Driver of Future Change

NOVEMBER 2019 — The drivers for the changes and investments businesses make have always been centered on reducing costs and increasing productivity. Those things are obviously still very, very important. But what has surfaced is a real focus on the customer.

Sara Nicastro, Field Service Evangelist, Future of Field Service blog and podcast
November 2019 | 00:21:24
Episode 11 Transcript and Show Notes

The drivers for the changes and investments businesses make have always been centered on reducing costs and increasing productivity. Those things are obviously still very, very important. But what has surfaced is a real focus on the customer.

Service companies have realized that customer centricity is critical to their success and field service plays a pivotal role in the customer experience. There are certain industries in which a field technician may be the only real face of the brand that the customer sees. This means that not only has the field technician’s world changed in terms of the tools they’re using, but even more importantly, in terms what it takes for them to deliver the desired customer experience.