Published: Sept. 24, 2018 By

With increasing momentum, CU Boulder Engineering is awarded its second NSF grant this month to collaborate with community colleges.

Professor Sean Shaheen's research group

Professor Sean Shaheen's research group in 2016.

The University of Colorado Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science has been awarded its second National Science Foundation (NSF) grant this month to build new connections with Colorado community colleges. The newest project is a three-year grant for $600,000 awarded through the NSF Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program. 

Sean Shaheen, associate professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering, and Janet Yowell, CAPS Project Director in the Center for STEM Learning, are co-principal investigators and directing the Authentic Research Experiences for Teachers (ARETe): Connecting Community College Faculty and Students to University Engineering and Computer Science Labs program. The grant uses a train-the-trainer model to match community college faculty with CU Boulder engineering faculty to conduct research on the Boulder campus. The CU Boulder ARETe leadership team also includes Anne-Barrie Hunter, external evaluator, and Shaw Ketels, educational research specialist.

This partnership provides community college faculty with professional development, mentoring and training on how to conduct research. Faculty will use what they’ve learned to create in-class research experiences within courses at their home colleges. The ARETe model has a multiplier effect that will connect community college students across the Front Range to research at CU Boulder for many years to come.

"It’s a win-win model," said Yowell, the ARETe program director. “Community college and CU engineering faculty will collaborate to advance innovative engineering research. This will enliven community college classrooms and provide access to research experience earlier in students’ academic careers.”

Connecting community college faculty with research

Faculty working in electrical engineering lab at CU Boulder Engineering.

Researchers working in an electrical engineering lab at CU Boulder Engineering.

NSF’s RET grants are frequently used to connect high school teachers with research experiences at universities. CU Boulder’s ARETe program is the first RET grant in Colorado to support collaboration between faculty of community colleges and four-year institutions. Five Colorado community colleges are slated to work with CU Boulder over the next three years: Arapahoe Community College, Community College of Aurora, Community College of Denver, Front Range Community College and Red Rocks Community College. 

ARETe is not the first time CU Engineering is partnering with community colleges to extend access to educational opportunities and now, more advanced research. In 2016, the Center for STEM Learning and Engineering received a $300,000 NSF INCLUDES grant to streamline transfer pathways for community college students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Earlier this month, the CU Engineering announced a $10 million NSF INCLUDES Alliance grant in partnership with Saddleback College and 15 community colleges in five states. 

Extending the network connecting CU Engineering to community colleges

With the ARETe project, the College of Engineering and Applied Science is deepening its institutional ties to community colleges and creating stronger pathways into engineering. Moreover, ARETe knits community college faculty and students to the CU Boulder campus through authentic research experiences that make them aware of STEM opportunities, particularly in engineering, that are within their reach. 

“Connecting our complex educational system through multiple points is a means to building strong ties between our state’s higher education institutions. With the increasing need for a greater STEM workforce, it is critical to get serious about creating an integrated academic network that creates a more diverse field of candidates for engineering degrees,” Shaheen said. 

The ARETe grant is another branch of CU Engineering’s growing network to supporting strong pathways into engineering education and careers in STEM fields that will help bolster the state’s workforce and economy. 


Maria Kuntz is the assistant director for communications, inclusion and community in the College of Engineering & Applied Science.