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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

MentorLinks Builds GIS Programs at Community Colleges

The Atlantic details the MentorLinks program, one I'd never heard of, but one that has touched GIS, but more on that later.
One good model for capacity building at the sub-baccalaureate level is the MentorLinks program, administered by the American Association of Community Colleges as part of the Advancing Technological Education program, which is Congressionally mandated and funded by the National Science Foundation. The MentorLinks program isn't big or flashy, but for a relatively modest investment in a select number of STEM programs at community colleges, it appears to achieve some significant, lasting results.
Here's how it works: through a national grant competition, AACC selects a small number of community colleges for a two-year grant program. The current 2011-2013 cohort has eight grantees, bringing the grand total of grantees since the program started in 2002 to just 33. Each grantee receives a modest grant to fund program development (for the current cohort, the two-year grant total was just $20,000) along with funding for travel to attending national meetings.  
The grantees represent a range of technical education programs from across the country, and each is matched with a mentor who has knowledge and connections in the area of STEM training the grantees plan to develop, with mentors receiving a small stipend. Working closely with their mentors, faculty and staff from the colleges endeavor to establish or strengthen a specific program, often in partnership with regional and local partners in government and industry.
I dug through the archives at MentorLinks to find grantee who tackled GIS. I found one, from Lincoln Land Community College in Illinois (where else?). Search this pdf for GIS and you'll find the write up about an intro GIS course offered in 2010 and some workshops with Esri. There was a plan for a certificate program in 2011. As of today I see just that same single GIS intro course in the course catalog.

Digging deeper into the past, I learned the City College of San Francisco worked on a "GIS Across the Curriculum" project (pdf of results) while Springfield Technical Community College, MA worked on "Advancing Workforce Education in GIS" in 2005-2007 (pdf of results). Kentucky Community and Technical College System, KY tackled "Geographical Information Systems Partnership" (ppt of results) back in 2002-2004. There's a 2009 article from the Community College Times explaining how the model pairs mentors from other community colleges with those trying to build programs and well as how some mentees turned mentors joined the GeoTech Center.
These efforts seem to pre-date and create the building blocks for work done by the GeoTech Center and other players, including Esri. Do we have enough experience, documentation and insight to build a best practices document aimed at creating or growing a successful community college GIS program?

The Atlantic