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Aims and ACC share $476,000 grant to improve information technology employability skills

Submitted on: 06-15-2008

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $476,000 grant to Arapahoe Community College and Aims Community College in Greeley for the NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program, Aims and ACC officials announced today. The grant will help the two colleges emphasize essential skills needed within the information technology workforce and will involve more than 12 educational, workforce and industry partners in the Denver metropolitan area. “With a shared vision to develop a model for information technology education that is responsive to the workforce needs of the region’s high-growth industries, ACC and Aims have collaborated with our other partners to bring about major changes in the focus of education for industry. Gone are the days of closed-door IT work, as technical skills are now routinely integrated in the daily operations of business. Employers are demanding more skills and knowledge than ever before,” said Diane Hegeman, ACC vice president for instruction. “We very much appreciate the confidence the National Science Foundation has shown in us and this project by awarding this grant to ACC and Aims, and we look forward to results that will have a measurable impact on the quality of employees in information technology fields in the coming years,” Hegeman said. The Denver region’s high-growth industries include aerospace, bioscience, energy and information technology. The project funded by the grant will focus on giving potential and current IT workers employability skills that will provide the intellectual capital required to fill high-skill and high-wage jobs in metro Denver. Titled the Colorado Advanced Technological Education Partnership (CATEP), the program will receive an award from NSF totaling $476,468, with Aims receiving $133,320 and ACC receiving $343,148. Erica Hastert, ACC faculty president and mathematics instructor, and Richard Gardner on the Aims IT faculty will serve as principal investigators for the project. “This is a great opportunity for Aims and ACC to work with educational entities and pertinent employers to focus our curricula to produce graduates with those employability skills required by industry," Gardner said. “This grant will help our IT faculty focus our coursework more precisely to ensure that we continue to produce graduates who are in high demand by an ever-changing industry.” The grant will enable Aims and ACC to meet the needs that employers report are absolutely essential but presently lacking within their information and communications workforce. The colleges will incorporate employability skills needed in the work place into the introductory IT course. These skills include verbal and written communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration, contextual knowledge of work responsibilities, self-management and motivation. The colleges also will provide professional development for faculty at the partnering community colleges and their participating secondary schools toward implementing educational experiences that include problem-based and collaborative learning driven by real-world problems. Professional development opportunities also will be offered for high school counselors and community college advisors to assist them in guiding students interested in IT toward specializing in a specific discipline and in guiding students of all disciplines to gain a commanding knowledge of technological applications in their field of choice. Partnerships with secondary schools will result in the infusion of employability skills into fundamental Career and Technical Education classes at participating high schools in Douglas, Larimer and Weld counties. Professional development for educators in those programs will assist them with teaching employability skills in the classroom. Best practices generated from research and previous NSF grant recipients will serve as the program’s foundation. Studies by organizations such as the National Center for Emerging Technologies show that a shortage of qualified workers is the biggest challenge to growth of IT businesses and that technical, analytical and employability skills must be integrated into basic information technology courses. The broader impact resulting from the project begins with the boost to economic development that will occur when technicians possess the skills industries need to experience growth. The project also will equip workers with life-long learning skills and add value to technician certificates and degrees. CATEP will establish strong partnerships among educators, the workforce and industry that will reach beyond the program itself. The project will build relationships with industry to develop a student internship program, a faculty externship program and a project advisory board composed of industry representatives who can expertly guide the project and assist with continual feedback to evaluate the project’s success. Partners committed to this effort include the Colorado Community College System, the Denver WIRED Initiative, Douglas County Schools, Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6, Thompson School District, Arapahoe/Douglas Works!, Weld County Employment Services, CH2MHill, Avaya, Lockheed Martin, Snelling Professional Services and BB2e.com.



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