The Future of Advanced Technological Education Arrives at UMass Boston

Emily Sullivan and Jim Mortenson | December 22, 2009
The Future of Advanced Technological Education Arrives at UMass Boston

A groundbreaking study of knowledge management systems that seeks to transform the way we solve problems is under way at UMass Boston, thanks to a $2 million federal grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

According to Deborah Boisvert, these latest NSF funds will be used to establish the Synergy Collaboratory for Research, Practice, and Transformation. The collaboratory will provide a national forum for productive dialogue and research on the best methods for duplicating regional successes on a national scale.

“Virtually every business and industry finds that it must continually innovate to retain or increase market share. often just to remain competitive,” says Boisvert, director of the Boston-Area Advanced Technological Education Connections (BATEC). “Innovation impacts all dimensions of the enterprise: product, service, process, and organizational structure. And technician education is not immune from these challenges.”

Boisvert and her colleagues David McNeel, director of the Center for Innovation in Technological Education at Nashville State Technical Community College, and Elaine Johnson, director of the National Advanced Technological Education Center for Biotechnology at the City College of San Francisco, will lead the national effort to connect, expand, and strengthen the ATEs and duplicate their regional successes on a national scale.

With the establishment of the BATEC in 1993 thanks to a $3 million NSF grant, UMass Boston is already a major contributor to creating a coordinated, self-sustaining, regional IT education and workforce system that promotes lifelong learning of technical skills and supports the IT workforce needs of Boston and the surrounding region, with a strong emphasis on attracting students from diverse backgrounds to IT training and helping them gain employment.

Advanced Technological Education Centers, or ATEs, are in 36 cities across the United States and focus on one or more of seven areas of need: advanced manufacturing technologies; agricultural and environmental technologies; biotechnology, chemical, and process technologies; engineering technologies; information and security technologies; learning and evaluation; and micro- and nanotechnologies.

These centers undertake broad national or geographic-specific initiatives in the high technology fields that drive the economy and are of strategic importance to the nation.

All of the ATE centers serve as leaders in their fields. Each center pursues a distinct vision of technological education that it carries out in cooperation with two-year and four-year colleges and universities, secondary schools, businesses, industry, and government. In addition to the centers, the NSF’s ATE program supports projects that target particular technological education issues.

“The national conferences we have held in past years and most recently Synergy 2008 broke new ground because we became acutely aware that the dissemination of information detailing our regional successes was not taking root in many areas,” said McNeel. “So we determined that we must instead set in motion those forces necessary to make innovative teaching and learning models common practice in technical classrooms across the country.”

“Based upon the expertise of leading researchers on and practitioners of innovation, the Synergy Collaboratory has developed a process of equipping ATE leaders and program participants to better realize the potential scale and impact of their centers and projects,” said Johnson. “In making this award, the National Science Foundation recognizes both the importance of creating a high performance technical workforce for a competitive global economy and the critical role public universities and community and technical colleges play in the education of technicians.”

The goal of the collaboratory is to help ATEs maximize their results with minimum resources by using a knowledge management system that extends beyond information technology. “The NSF wants us to focus on more than just information technology and involve different types of technologies and geographies,” Boisvert explains.

The BATEC partnership is comprised of UMass Boston; Bristol, Bunker Hill, Middlesex, Northern Essex, Quinsigamond, and Roxbury Community Colleges; the K-12 Districts of Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Medford, Newton, Northeast Metropolitan, Revere, Somerville, Watertown, and Winthrop; business and industry leaders; government officials and agencies; and members of the community. BATEC engages the region’s secondary school teachers as well as college faculty in professional development for new and emerging information technologies and curriculum development focused on the design and delivery of a new IT education and workforce continuum. BATEC also provides students with the academic, technical, and professional skills necessary to design, develop, support, and manage the hardware, software, multimedia, and integrated systems used in our workplaces.

For additional information, contact Deborah Boisvert, director of BATEC, at deborah.boisvert@umb.edu or 617.287.7295.

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