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 Small but mighty MentorLinks makes big differences 

"Grant recipients report positive changes on campuses thanks to mentors' advice and networking"
By Madeline Patton
Community College Times
December 9, 2003

In the year since they met their MentorLinks mentors, the advisees from seven community colleges report enormous progress toward their goals. 

"It focused our vision of where we wanted to go with IT [information technology]," said Kevin Begley, program manager of workforce development at the Valencia Campus of the University of New Mexico. "Without this program we really, probably would not have looked at the IT program the way we did and [made] the changes we needed to make," he said. His mentor is Phyllis Owens, professor of computer graphics and Web design at Camden County College in New Jersey.

Hugh Hammer, an aquaculture instructor at Gadsden State Community College, said having his mentor, Bill Falls of Hillsboro Community College, introduce him at a dozen aquaculture businesses in central Florida transformed his hope of finding student internship sites into a reality. "There were doors opened to me in a single day that would have taken me years to break down," Hammer said. Falls is an associate professor at Hillsboro and the aquaculture program manager at that Tampa, Fla., college.

As grants go, MentorLinks’ monetary value is small; just $7,500 over two years to each of the seven advisees who were selected as project directors through a competitive application process. Advisees may use the grant money to pay for trips to their mentors’ colleges, release time to work on new curriculum, modest amounts of equipment and supplies, and expenses for discipline-related conferences. The mentors also receive an honorarium and their travel expenses to visit the advisees’ colleges.

The American Association of Community Colleges funds MentorLinks from the $1.1 million Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant it received from the National Science Foundation. From this grant, AACC also pays for the mentors and seven project directors to attend the ATE Principal Investigators conference in October in Washington, D.C., and a two-day MentorLinks meeting before the large conference.

AACC uses the remainder of its NSF grant to disseminate information about ATE. AACC explains the innovations of ATE projects and centers in publications and on its Web site. ATE is a 10-year-old national effort, mandated by Congress, to improve technician education through community colleges. With its grant, the association also hosts a leadership summit and the annual conference for more than 500 ATE principal investigators and team members.

"MentorLinks is so much more than funding. It is an opportunity for fresh eyes, fresh perspectives and fresh starts," said Lisa Stich, vice president of educational services at Flathead Valley Community College. The enthusiasm of her mentor, Ara Andrea, during a visit to the Kalispell, Mont., campus affirmed plans to expand the natural resources curriculum and instigated new marketing to publicize the college’s proximity to Glacier National Park. Andrea is an instructor and curriculum developer for the forest resources technology program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore. 

While the MentorLinks money for travel is crucial to bringing the mentors and advisees together, the grant recipients report that it is their mentors’ advice and networking that has powered improvements on their campuses.

"I’m really impressed with what’s happened. It’s really helped my whole college," said Robert Silbaugh, network technologies instructor at Riverland Community College in Albert Lea, Minn. 

Silbaugh applied for the grant because he needed help figuring out how to maintain expensive computer labs and build unity among the computer tech faculty at his college’s three campuses. The campuses had previously been separate, public colleges.

Don Astrab, Silbaugh’s mentor and executive vice president of academic services at Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla., not only helped redesign the computer science department, he helped the college revitalize its advisory committees. The college president was so impressed with the advisory board handbook that Astrab prepared with Silbaugh, that he recently held Riverland’s first college-wide meeting on business and industry to distribute the handbook to the entire faculty. 

"The best thing is, it has opened up the channels of communications with all departments in the whole college," Silbaugh said, adding that learning about Astrab’s successful experience coordinating activities at Brevard’s four campuses encouraged him. "Whoever was responsible for putting us together, it was like a miracle. We both learned a lot from each other," he said.

For more information about MentorLinks, visit the AACC Web site.

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