A conversation with Sharon Gusky, an ATE PI at Northwestern Connecticut Community College.
Q: Your ATE project started just over a year ago. What do you know now that you wish you’d known then about project evaluation?
A: I wish I had a better understanding of information that is useful to collect before the start of the grant so we would have been better prepared to capture baseline and impact data. This is our first NSF grant and it allowed us to start a new manufacturing program. The community was excited about and very supportive of it. The first year we received many requests to speak at events, do radio and cable TV shows, and visit high schools, but we did not have a way to capture the impact of these activities.
Q: What advice do you have for new PIs with regard to working with an evaluator?
A: Start working with your evaluator early and set clear timelines for checking in and reviewing and analyzing the data as it is collected. The information that you collect along the way can help shape the program. We learned early on through student interviews that they did not like the course schedule, which required them to wait a semester or summer to take the second technical course in a sequence. We used their feedback to revise the schedule so that each course ran for eight weeks during a semester. If we had waited until the end of the spring semester to find this out, it would have been too late to implement the change for fall.
Q: What challenges did you face in getting the evaluation off the ground?
A: We faced a number of scheduling challenges and miscommunication with regard to data collection. We hadn’t clearly defined the roles of the various people involved—external evaluator, institutional research director, PI, and co-PIs. We needed to sit down together and work out a plan so that the data we needed was being collected and shared.