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STCC Awarded $1.15 Million in Grants from National Science Foundation

SPRINGFIELD — The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded two separate grants to Springfield Technical Community College to enhance education in cutting-edge internet technology and advanced photonics, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal announced today.

The college received $599,388 to develop the Internet of Things Education Project and $551,202 to develop a program called Problem-Based Learning in Advanced Photonics Manufacturing Education.

Both grants are designed to support three-year projects that will prepare and inspire students to enter careers in growing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. STCC has degree and certificate programs that prepare students for these careers.

“Congratulations to Springfield Technical Community College for these two impressive grants from the National Science Foundation,” Neal said. “I have worked hard throughout my career to protect these funding sources because I see how they are used right here in our community. STCC will be able to use this allocation to enhance their already-impressive course offerings in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields and attract high-school students to these fields. I look forward to future success stories from these programs.”

Gary Mullett, co-chair of the Electronic Systems Engineering Technology Department, said the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) can be described as machines connecting to other machines and exchanging data. Machines with this type of technology include automobiles, heating and cooling systems in buildings, and home appliances.

“It’s become pervasive,” said Mullett, principal investigator of the grant. “The internet has evolved from delivering entertainment and information to people to machines that are talking to other machines. It’s possible that 20 or 30 billion things will be connected to the internet before too long.”

Technology behind the internet of things has had an impact on the evolution of autonomous vehicles, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare, he added.

“The technology of the IoT has the very genuine potential to significantly impact almost every aspect of human endeavor and commerce,” Mullett wrote in a description of the project to the National Science Foundation. “It is vitally important that the United States be at the forefront of the development of this technology and the creation of a workforce that can deal with the installation, maintenance, and updating of this emerging technology. This project will strive to provide curricula and training to those that would teach the material to ensure an adequate workforce of IoT technicians.”

Mullett said the final goal of the project is to create an internet of things systems field technician certificate that would prepare students to enter the workforce. The certificate would be offered as part of one of the existing electronics, computer, or networking programs at STCC.

The second grant-funded project aims to increase the STEM pipeline of high-school and community-college students prepared and motivated to pursue careers in photonics technology. Students will use problem-based learning methods focused on advanced photonics manufacturing. Photonics is the science of generating, detecting, and manipulating particles of light. Applications include lasers, optics, fiber optics, and electro-optical devices. The grant supports curriculum development and the training of high-school and college-level STEM teachers in the Northeast.

“We will do a series of professional development workshops to teach the faculty how to teach using problem-based methods,” said Nicholas Massa, department chair for Optics and Photonics Technology and principal investigator of the grant. “It’s all about structured problem solving. It’s about teaching what to do when you don’t know what to do.”

Massa and his team will create a series of eight multi-media problem-based learning modules focused on real-world issues in advanced photonics manufacturing. STCC has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AIM Photonics Academy, the New England Board of Higher Education, and the NSF-ATE Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing.

Massa said companies will be asked to describe actual problems they have faced, adding that the companies’ processes will be captured on video that will be presented to students along with problem-solving strategies and resources used to solve the problems.

“This brings the company into the classroom,” Massa said. “We will use video, stills, and animation to present students with these problems. We’re teaching them how to ask the right questions.”

STCC President John Cook thanked Mullett and Massa for their efforts in securing the grants.

“Dr. Massa and Professor Mullett are passionate about their work inside and outside of the classroom. They both have a long history of successfully securing important grants for their programs at STCC,” Cook said. “I’m grateful that they both have a keen understanding of the needs of our industry partners and a commitment to ensuring our students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.”

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