Director’s Message—Introducing a New Series on Student Experiences in Community College

We are excited to announce a new series under my Director’s Message section, focused on showcasing the achievements of our students in the fields of micro and nanotechnology. This series aims to foster a closer connection between students and our institution and, more importantly, to the broader community.

Here are three titles we’re considering, but please email me with suggestions and ideas. 

  • Student Conversations: Exploring Micro and Nanotechnology Successes
  • Student Voices: In-Depth Conversations on Micro and Nanotechnology
  • Voices of the Future: Conversations with Students in Micro and Nanotechnology

Mission: Highlighting Student Experiences

Our mission is simple: to highlight the unique and inspiring experiences of students at our community colleges within the MNT-EC network of schools. Students are the heart of our mission, and their stories can inspire others and provide valuable feedback to our institutions and programs.

Starting this summer, we will feature conversations between myself and various students. This pilot initiative will run throughout the summer and could continue as a regular feature if successful. We believe that student voices are crucial in shaping our community and educational practices, and we want to provide a platform for them to express themselves. Of course, part of our hope is these conversations also will help inspire new students to consider nano as a career. 

Student Testimonials

In this series, you’ll hear directly from students about their journeys. We’ll include quotes and short stories from those who have already shared their experiences with me, giving you a taste of what to expect. These testimonials will highlight the most rewarding aspects of their time here, memorable experiences, and the support they’ve received from faculty and staff.

We hope to engage existing students to participate in this initiative. Students can share their stories through a detailed process we’re setting up, whether it’s through a form, email, or a phone/Zoom call. Participating in this series will not only allow students to share their experiences but also connect with a larger community and inspire their peers.

To make these stories more vibrant and relatable, we plan to add photos of students engaged in various campus activities and, if possible, short video clips. Visuals will help bring their stories to life and make the blog posts more engaging. 

We invite our readers to engage with this initiative by emailing me or sharing their own experiences on various social media platforms in response to our posts. Additionally, we might include interactive elements like polls or surveys to gauge reader interest in different types of student stories. Based on insights from our annual review and analytics work, we know that highlighting peers and professors significantly drives interaction on social media and the blog.

Closing Thoughts

Each blog post will conclude with thoughts from me, or MNT-EC Team members, emphasizing the importance of the student community to our institution’s mission. We believe that showcasing these experiences will highlight what’s possible at a community college and demonstrate that student experiences are central to our mission.

We are eager to launch this series and share the inspiring stories of our students. Stay tuned for the first conversation coming soon!

Director’s Message—Committing to Meaningful Change in Our DEI Journey

Working within the CHIPS and Science Act space has highlighted a gap in the last year—Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) often feels more like a checkbox for funding than a genuine commitment to our Micro Nanotechnology Education Center (MNT-EC) programs. Let’s change that. It is time for DEI to reflect on our actions as much as our applications. By focusing on realistic, actionable steps, we can ensure our MNT workforce becomes more diverse and inclusive. Let’s make it a genuine part of building the future, not just a requirement to meet.

A photorealistic image that represents a diverse classroom setting, with icons or imagery reflecting technology, mathematics, and cultural elements. Created by Midjourney AI with the above terms.
Image Created with Midjourney

Editor’s NOTE: Please see link at end of post for various DEI Resources.

Given the anti-DEI sentiment in society, we need to have a renewed focus. Over the past year, 81 anti-DEI bills have been introduced nationwide, and eight have become law. MNT-EC wants to support an inclusive nano education and workforce pathway. We’re about more than just science; we’re about bringing together people from all walks of life from various marginalized and underrepresented identities to innovate and push nanotechnology forward. Let’s face it: these stats do not paint a great picture, but we know the best ideas come from diverse minds working together. 

  • Only 26.7% of tech jobs are held by women, showcasing a significant gender gap within the industry.
  • Racial diversity in tech is low, with Black Americans holding 7% of jobs, Latinx Americans 8%, and Asian Americans 20%, despite more concerted efforts to improve these numbers.
  • Tech executives in the United States are overwhelmingly white, at 83.3%.
  • A notable pay gap exists, with women in tech being offered, on average, 3% less salary than men for equivalent roles.
  • Compared to the general industry, the high-tech sector employs a higher percentage of white workers (68.5%) and Asian Americans (14%) but fewer Black Americans (7.4%) and Latinx Americans (8%).

Bringing DEI into the heart of engineering and nano means we’re not just teaching subject matter for nano; we’re building a community that mirrors the real world. It also means that we acknowledge and hope to challenge structural oppression in society (e.g., racism, sexism, classism). With initiatives that open doors for everyone, we’re making sure the future of nano is as diverse as the world around us.

And with the big push from the federal government’s CHIPS Act, we’re on the brink of a new era in tech. This isn’t just about keeping America in the lead; it’s about ensuring the lead is held by a team as diverse as America. Further, the CHIPS Act presents an opportunity to think meaningfully about equity and play a role in creating a more equitable and diverse workforce. 

We hope that MNT-EC will be part of a collective effort, across the entire USA (and the world) where we focus on DEI in a meaningful way. I wrote this in January: Director’s Message — Nano Education: Inspiring the Next Generation. 

It is worth noting that the U.S. Department of the Treasury examined wealth and income inequality, and the CHIPS Act offers the opportunity to expand access to higher-paying jobs for underrepresented groups. In the new DEI section, we link to the article Racial Inequality in the United States | U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Adding to our vibrant conversation on making nano education more inclusive, MNT-EC is taking things further. We’re assembling a DEI resource library with downloadable PDFs, YouTube videos, Articles, and other resources. Some resources have come from our educator network and helped develop what you will find there. Whether you’re looking to expand your professional skills or become more informed, this library is here to help everyone grow. If you know of an excellent resource or document, please get in touch.

We want to see the future of nano as broad and inclusive as the community we serve. It’s about creating spaces where everyone can find something valuable, learn from it, and contribute. With this library, MNT-EC leads toward a more inclusive, knowledgeable, and connected nano community.

In our DEI resource section, there are three excellent resources to look for in addition to a collection we continue expanding. You can click on the screenshot to the left or the text link below.

  1. Washington University’s Diversity Success: A real-world success story from Washington University, published in the Harvard Business Review, showcases the deliberate strategies to create a diverse and thriving academic department, proving that intentional effort can lead to significant positive change.
  2. Hidden Curriculum in Engineering Education: This piece illuminates the often-unseen forces shaping student experiences in engineering, emphasizing the need for awareness and action to support all students, especially those from underrepresented groups.
  3. The Equity Excellence Imperative is a visionary blueprint for making equity a cornerstone of excellence in undergraduate education. It offers practical strategies for creating a more inclusive and high-achieving academic environment.

Find PDFs and more on the MNT-EC Diversity Equity Inclusion – DEI Resources Page.

Special thanks for guidance and insights in this DEI post to:

  • Dr. Jalil Bishop is a critical qualitative scholar with expertise in college affordability, student debt, anti-racist policymaking, and the racialized geography of life opportunity. 

You can read more about them in a 2023 post about their national recognition as MNT-EC Evaluators.

Director’s Message — Celebrating Student Success: Stories

Over the last four years, the Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) and its partners have dedicated themselves to advancing the nanotechnology field through comprehensive educational programs. At its core, MNT-EC’s mission revolves around nurturing the next generation of nano professionals, focusing on students from community colleges. 

NOTE: Don’t miss the video at end of post!

Highlighting Student Achievements 

MNT-EC’s success is highlighted by its vibrant student programs and achievements.

  • Over 100 student interns in the Micro Nano Technology Collaborative Undergraduate Research Network (MNT-CURN)
  • Four Barry Goldwater Scholars
  • Winners of the American Association of Community Colleges Innovation Challenge
  • Winner best chemistry poster at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science 
  • Over 50 community college published authors in peer reviewed journals

MNT-CURN Research Students 

The MNT-CURN program showcases the real-world value and impact of student research internships. Through MNT-CURN, students engage in cutting-edge research, contributing valuable insights and innovations to nanotechnology. The program highlights MNT-EC’s commitment to providing practical, hands-on research experiences that prepare students for rewarding careers.

Goldwater Scholars 

Among its accolades, MNT-EC celebrates the achievements of students awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship is a testament to the high caliber of students MNT-EC nurtures, recognizing their potential to contribute significantly to mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering research. 

Take, for example, the story of four dedicated MNT-CURN students, Rachael Orkin, Celina Yu, Janet Teng, and Sophia Barber; plus a MNT-CURN student mentor Justice Robinson, who were awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. This scholarship is a nod to their outstanding potential in STEM fields, recognizing their innovative research and academic dedication. 

AACC Challenge Winners 

MNT-EC’s students have also distinguished themselves in the AACC Challenges, demonstrating their problem-solving prowess and innovative thinking. These victories highlight the students’ talents and the quality of education and mentorship provided by MNT-EC. It’s a recognition of how the center’s programs are increasingly aligned with the industry’s needs and challenges.


Cal Poly student and Pasadena City College alum Tan Nguyen recently garnered the Best Poster Presentation Award in the General Chemistry Category at the 2023 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference held in Portland, Oregon.

MNT-EC’s alums are emerging as nanotechnology leaders, mentoring new generations and enriching the field with their innovations. As we look forward, MNT-EC is committed to broadening its educational programs and research initiatives, aiming not only to keep pace with the rapid advancements in nanotechnology but also to foster industry growth and workforce development. 

We want to celebrate the achievements of our dozens of students across our many partner institutions, whose successes in initiatives like MNT-CURN, Goldwater Scholars, and various other programs underscore MNT-EC’s vital role in elevating nanotechnology education and setting new benchmarks for excellence. We also would like to invite our community college partners to participate in MNT-EC student initiatives to support your students. Ultimately, MNT-EC wants to provide community college students a chance to achieve outcomes that will support their advancement into MNT industry jobs and better prepare them for future education and workforce needs. Email me to learn more.

MNT-CURN student / mentor perspective

Director’s Message — Nano Education: Inspiring the Next Generation

Anthony Francis returned to New York for school after spending his childhood on the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia. See how collaborative projects, rich mentoring, and skillful networking helped Anthony secure a job in Mechatronics- a top 10 emergent technology.

In the United States, vocational training and apprenticeships are often undervalued compared to university education, even though they can lead to high-paying and in-demand careers. This trend is particularly evident when considering the evolving and critical field of nanotechnology education. 

A 2020 report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, titled ‘The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees,’ reveals a striking insight: many high-paying and in-demand careers in the U.S., including those in the burgeoning nanotechnology sector, do not necessarily require a bachelor’s degree. 

Yet, these alternative educational pathways, crucial for preparing the workforce for a nano-driven future, are frequently overlooked due to prevailing societal attitudes and a need for more awareness among students and their parents. As we look towards 2031, with an estimated 72 percent of jobs in the U.S. requiring post-secondary education and training, it becomes imperative to reevaluate and promote the role of specialized training, particularly in nanotechnology, to meet this demand. Between 2021 and 2031:

  • There will be 18.5 million job openings per year on average.
  • 12.5 million of these annualized openings will require at least some college education
  • Of these, a significant portion of these jobs will be accessible through associate degrees (13 percent), which often serve as a stepping stone to further education or directly into specialized careers. 

Emerging Trends in Nanotechnology Education

As the Principal Investigator of MNT-EC, I have witnessed firsthand the burgeoning significance of nano education and its pivotal role in shaping the future workforce. This post focuses on the idea that we need an increase in the number of nano students everywhere to be successful and provide for a new CHIPS Act workforce. 

We want community college to be more than only a degree; it is about crafting a visionary pathway for our students, illuminating the possibilities that nano presents. Educators, you are the architects of tomorrow, and through your dedication, we can inspire a new generation to explore this exciting frontier. You play a critical role in student recruitment. 

As I wrote last month (Link at the end of article), community colleges and universities currently offer a spectrum of nanotechnology programs. However, a palpable disconnect exists between academic curricula and the dynamic needs of the industry. We have used our MNT-EC Community of Practice as one way to open up deeper conversations. 

We must critically assess and bridge this gap as we delve into the landscape. It is essential to understand that while our efforts in education are commendable, they must evolve continuously to mirror the rapid advancements and specific demands of the semiconductor and nanotechnology sectors. 

Engaging the Next Generation

Today’s youth and career changers are at a crossroads, seeking paths that lead to fulfillment and innovation. Data from organizations like NIIT and SEMI shed light on their aspirations and the challenges they face (the most obvious one is that 4-year programs are more expensive than 2-year ones). 

As educators, we must understand and address these diverse needs, ensuring the nanotechnology field is an inviting and viable option for all, regardless of their background. 

Bridging the educational gap requires a nuanced understanding of the distinct paths for technicians and engineers. (I discuss this in more detail in the Director’s Message link below if you are interested. Please feel free to reach out by email to share your input and ideas with me.) 

Our curriculum must not only meet industry standards but also embrace the unique academic journeys of each role. By integrating practical skills and real-world applications, we can align our educational offerings more closely with the needs of the industry, ensuring that our students are not just learners but future innovators. We prepare them for some of the many options they might have with certificate programs, 2-year or 4-year degrees. 

The pedagogy of nanotechnology needs a makeover, to some degree, as much innovation as the field itself. Engaging teaching methods, augmented by technology and virtual labs, can cater to diverse learning styles and bring the microscopic world of nano into vivid reality. 

Collaborations with industry enrich the curriculum and provide students with invaluable insights and opportunities, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. Collaborations often equal Internships, but not always. 

There are undergraduate research programs and other creative ways students can gain experience from and with industry. The MNT-CURN program has dozens of student mentors and researchers within our national center. Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement (SCALE) at Purdue University is one of the preeminent U.S. programs for semiconductor workforce development in the defense sector. (Links below.) 

The nanotechnology industry is in a state of constant flux, and so the skills required to navigate it must evolve at the same pace. Identifying and nurturing these competencies is crucial. From critical thinking to technical expertise, we must prepare our students for today’s careers and tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities.

Commitment to Diversity and Community

In the realm of nano education, diversity and inclusion are not just ideals but necessities. The CHIPS Act requires thousands of workers, and we will find exceptional workers if we actively dismantle barriers and create learning environments where every student can thrive regardless of their background. We can cultivate a community representing the world it seeks to innovate.

Networking, mentorships, and peer support are the cornerstones of a robust learning community. We can enhance the educational experience by fostering these connections and providing students with the guidance and support they need to succeed in nano. 

Our role extends beyond instruction as we stand at the forefront of educational innovation. We are the catalysts for change, the mentors for the next generation of nano pioneers. It is time for us to embrace continuous improvement, to adapt and thrive in our methodologies, ensuring that our students are prepared for the future and ready to shape it. 

If any of this post sparks your interest, please get in touch and join the conversation. We welcome your ideas and contributions. 

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More about the post image:

Anthony Francis returned to New York for school after spending his childhood on the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia. See how collaborative projects, rich mentoring, and skillful networking helped Anthony secure a job in Mechatronics- a top 10 emergent technology.

The featured image is found on ATE Student Success Stories page which “highlights the struggles and triumphs of a diverse set of students in community and technical college settings. With support and guidance from ATE centers and projects, their lives and careers have been changed for the better. Each video documents a unique success story, but all of them have a common theme: technician training has the power to change lives.”

Image Credit: ATE Central and the Internet Scout Research Group