Faculty-Staff Innovators Grants Help Range of Programs | Virginia Peninsula Community College

Faculty-Staff Innovators Grants Help Range of Programs

December 17, 2021
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Of three Faculty-Staff Innovators grants recently awarded, one went to the drone program.


Recipients of the latest Faculty-Staff Innovators grants from the Thomas Nelson Educational Foundation vary greatly. One involves an academic program, another involves a workforce development program, and the third involves a program that helps students transition to college life.

However, what they all have in common is their enduring impact on student success, which is the grant program's goal, said Tracy Ashley, the College's director of development.

“For many, it is the necessary seed money to implement new classroom technology, to fund faculty research, and to purchase tools for better student access to education,” she said.

Projects receiving grants for the 2021-22 academic year were JumpStart ($5,000), CNC machining ($5,000) and the drones program ($4,922).

Monette Dutch is the director of the TRiO Support Student Services, which runs JumpStart. The four-day orientation program is designed to acclimate incoming students to college life. The Innovators grant will allow her staff (SaraLynn Goergen, LaRai Petway and Natasha Woods) to help more students.

“If we didn’t get the money, we were talking that we might be able to do only a half-day program, which that really limits our ability to impact our students,” Goergen said. “This enables us to keep a full-day program, include additional students, include all of these other things we wouldn’t be able to purchase.”

In summer 2021, more than 40 students participated. With the additional funding, the TRiO staff hope to have 60 next summer.

The staff’s grant application showed that JumpStart participants were more likely to stay in college, graduate and transfer to a four-year school. But it’s not all about the numbers.

“I know when we start them out the first day of JumpStart, they’re very nervous. They don’t know what to expect,” Petway said. “But by the last day of JumpStart, they feel more accomplished, they feel more confident when it is time for them to start their actual classes.”

Petway is in her first year on the TRiO staff, and said JumpStart also teaches self-care, coping skills and time management.

“We do a lot of different activities that gear them toward some of the obstacles they might face in the courses they may take in the fall,” she said. “It really helps them.”

Goergen, who has been involved with JumpStart for more than six years, noticed a difference this year.

“It impacted the students significantly more than I think I’ve seen in the past,” she said. “We had students say, ‘This is the first time I’ve been with my peers in a group, in person, in 18 months.’ … This is such an important event for them.”

Another recipient this cycle, Edward Morris is an assistant professor in the mechanical engineering program and the head of the College’s CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) program. He proposed using the funds to train College personnel on all the machines available to them. 

“What I’m hoping for is the company that represents Tormach, who makes these machines, can come in and train me and some of my colleagues and adjuncts to learn how to download the CNC programs to these machines so we can utilize them,” Morris said.

He wants faculty, students and staff at the College to realize the close relationship between CADD and machining. When he came through the CADD program in 1982, machining classes were part of the curriculum. That is no longer the case.

“This is a way to revitalize this program by bringing the CADD component and the machining component together like they should be,” he said.

With a lot of the local businesses invested in machining, including Newport News Shipbuilding, it seems to be a perfect fit for the College.

“We have the best CADD faculty in the world,” Morris said. “Some cross-training would help this CADD faculty. I can basically teach them the theory. I know the theory. … My problem is I’m not experienced in utilizing that particular machine.”

The grant also will help Morris keep up maintenance on the College’s three CNC turning centers, and three CNC (computer numerical control) machining centers.

“We do want the machining program to grow, and I think this is one of the first steps,” he said. “I have people calling me now that need to be trained.”

The third grant was awarded to the drone program led by Pete Berquist and Cherie Aukland, who work together in teaching the UMS 111 class. The course teaches students how to fly drones manually. Other drone classes cover Federal Aviation Administration regulations and drone maintenance. Julie Young, head of the Mechanical Engineering Technology program, is also among drone courses instructors.

One thing Berquist and Aukland quickly noticed was students who had access to drones outside of class progressed much faster. It all came down to time on the controllers.

“That was very reminiscent for me learning how to fly drones,” Berquist said. “I just had to do it over and over and over and over again, because it's muscle memory.”

With that in mind, the two applied for an Innovators grant, which will allow them to buy 18 drone kits. However, students will have access to those drones outside class.

“We met with some folks with the library and explored the idea of being able to check drones out just like students can check out a laptop, or a wireless hotspot, or any other type of technology,” Berquist said.

Details are being worked out, but students should be able to sign out drones beginning in January. He said that will directly affect their performance.

While all three grants directly benefit students, their reach goes much farther.

“It lets the students know, and us know, how much they care about the program,” Petway said.

Berquist agreed.

“I've been involved in the Innovators grants for a long time, both as a recipient and as an evaluator,” Berquist said. “And it is one of the programs at Thomas Nelson that I am just really proud to see that we have.”

He noted Thomas Nelson faculty and staff have many great ideas, and through the College’s Educational Foundation, those ideas are able to come to fruition.

“I can't praise the Educational Foundation enough for their insight and willingness to support projects like this,” Berquist said.

Ashley noted another round of Faculty-Staff Innovators grants will be available in the spring. For more information, email her at ashleyt@tncc.edu.

About the Educational Foundation
The Thomas Nelson Community College Educational Foundation, a non profit 501(c)(3), corporation, was established in 1979 to raise private financial support to augment programs and existing services and to attract funds to develop new courses and programs. Funds are used to provide various types of support including scholarships, faculty development, program support, and capital needs. The Foundation supports over 50 scholarships and a wide range of academic programs.  Learn more at tncc.edu.