Identifying trends and staying up to date on the latest technology are difficult in many fields, especially higher education. It’s no different at Thomas Nelson, especially in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math division.
Dr. Charles DeSassure, the dean of Thomas Nelson’s STEM division, is confident help is on the way. He announced the College has been invited to join the Convergence College Network, which will allow staff to tap into cutting-edge research, and network with top-tier institutions with no cost to the College.
“Some of the problems we may have at Thomas Nelson, another community college in California or South Carolina or one of the other schools that participates, they may have just gone through that same problem,” he said. “They can provide their templates or recommendations on what they did to provide a solution to a problem. … The opportunity for faculty to network, that’s a huge part.”
The CCN, part of the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC), was founded in 2012, and is funded by the National Science Foundation. On its website, it says, “the Convergence College Network (CCN) is a select cohort of community colleges and universities from across the country that connects IT educators with a wealth of resources to enhance their programs.”
Thomas Nelson is one of only two Virginia schools in the organization. Southside Virginia Community College is the other Virginia school among more than 80 members in 31 states. Seven of the members are four-year institutions, and the rest are two-year schools.
The College enters the CCN as a Level 2 institution, with the goal of eventually moving up to Level 1.
“The difference between that is if you’re at Level 1, you get more funding, in terms of professional development for the faculty,” he said. “In Level 2, you do get funding, but you don’t get as much.”
DeSassure is especially eager about attending national conferences with other prestigious community colleges and four-year institutions.
STEM faculty members Sally Schaffner, Sharon Cotman, and Michael Mann will take the lead for the College. Cotman is just learning about the CCN, but is excited about what the organization has to offer.
“It’s like another resource or asset for us to use,” she said, adding it will be great to talk with experts and other faculty in STEM fields to learn how they address and solve problems.
While she hopes faculty and students are able to take advantage of the conferences, she said the association with CCN will extend far beyond the time frame of a specific event.
“This is almost like having a conference year-round so you can tap into those resources,” she said. “I see it as a win-win for the students and the faculty.”
DeSassure said the CCN also provides research, guidelines and more for member schools.
“They have networks with other (organizations) where they can get information quickly by just asking a question, when it would take us additional time because we are not in the network,” he said.
Cotman said the department really will benefit from the CCN’s research.
“They do research, kind of like an environmental scan, to see what the trends are and what will be needed in the next 24 to 36 months by the employers,” she said. “Then we need to speak to our advisory committee, who are local businesses and organizations, to find out what they need. They can share that information and get feedback and adjust our courses and curriculum accordingly.”
It is up to the College to take it from there.
“We’ll be able to provide a curriculum to the students so that they’re able to be prepared for the skill sets that are needed in the market today,” she said. “There are lots of jobs out there that are not being filled, so we have the mission of preparing students for those jobs.”
DeSassure said the added visibility in the academic and higher education communities should help enrollment.
“No one wants to send their child to a college that’s not staying on the cutting edge of technology,” he said. “It’s the opportunity to put ourselves in the environment with others so that we can find suitable solutions.
“These are exciting times. I’m motivated.”