CGCC Instructor Secures National Science Foundation Grant

August 17, 2017

Jim Pytel, an instructor in CGCC’s EM-Tech program (formerly Renewable Energy Technology), has received a one-year, $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support development of the revamped program’s core classes. The grant will be used to prepare online instructional content for electronics, hydraulics, and motor control classes, review and test online content, create accompanying study guides, hire a part-time lab instructor, and for program recruitment.

The National Science Foundation finances educational research in non-medical science fields. Its $7.5 billion annual budget supports approximately 24 percent of federally-supported science research in America’s colleges and universities. While the grant CGCC received is a tiny chip off that large block, the money is a significant opportunity for a relatively small school to build robust, timely instructional content.

Mary Kramer, the college’s Director of Career and Technical Education, stressed the need to develop the curriculum supported by this grant. “In order to keep the curriculum up-to-date,” she said, “faculty need to be trained in whatever industry is changing. The goal is always to provide the most relevant, industry-standard instruction for our students.”

Many classes in the EM-Tech program are “hybrid” courses, where the student watches video lectures and accesses reference materials online, works with the instructor and classmates virtually though online forums and email, and then meets with the instructor and classmates in person for hands-on lab work and assignments. Such classes help solve a problem many students face when starting the program: Getting up to speed on complex problems and processes.

“Math has always been the biggest hurdle for students newly entering this field,” Pytel said. “However, with recent changes in course delivery, a lot of these issues have been alleviated.” With the lectures and reference resources available online, Pytel said “students are capable of rewinding, revisiting, and reviewing the material as many times as they need to understand a concept.”

“As a result, the hands-on workshop or lab accompanying the online lectures go a little smoother.”

While students can review the material as many times as necessary, this is not entirely self-paced learning. Students still must complete assignments and labs on schedule. Pytel feels that if a student diligently completes that work on time, he or she can pass even the most rigorous requirements. “If prospective students are disciplined enough to perform the assigned work and can simply show up to every lab, they can get the skills they need to prepare for the workplace,” Pytel said.

The next step in the process will be to apply for an additional, larger NSF grant to support development of the remainder of the program’s new content in 2019 or 2020.