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National Science Foundation Grants $2.47 Million to CCCCD


September 30, 2004 – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Collin County Community College District (CCCCD) a $2.469 million grant to develop a degree in the field of convergence technology. The grant—the largest in college history—officially began August 1 and will extend through July 31, 2008.

Convergence is the integration of voice, data, video and image all over the same network. Historically, voice and data have been handled by separate groups within a business, and home systems have been relatively simply. With the advent of Voice over IP, both data and voice can be serviced on the same network, and the network may be wired or wireless. A convergence technician supports the converged network and the proliferation of “smart” devices and appliances that attach to it both in businesses and homes.

This grant builds on two past grants. It is not only the largest from the National Science Foundation but also in the history of the college. CCCCD will lead the grant with El Centro College from the Dallas County Community College District and Tarrant County College’s northeast campus rounding out the North Texas partnership.

“The National Science Foundation chose only five regional technology centers this year, so we are very excited to be one of their Advanced Technological Education centers. This is a phenomenal opportunity for students throughout North Texas,” said Sam Roach, chair of the college’s Board of Trustees.

The NSF provides funding to U.S. universities, colleges, academic consortia, nonprofit institutions and small businesses for research and education in science and engineering.

“This is a groundbreaking area of technology, one that we believe to be very important,” said college president Cary Israel. “We are honored to work in partnership with the National Science Foundation to respond to the growing needs in the field of convergence technology.”

Collin County Community College officially delved into convergence technology two years ago, when it opened a convergence lab at the Preston Ridge Campus in Frisco in November 2002. This was the first academic convergence lab at a community college in Texas. Since then, the lab has been the nerve center of convergence education at the college, and local businesses have also used the lab to beta-test products before going to market.

The new grant program will create curriculum for an associate degree in convergence technology, which will be a model available for free to colleges and universities nationwide.

According to Ann Beheler, the college’s dean of engineering technology, many entry-level technology jobs have been offshored in recent years, but two career tracks identified in this grant will create new job opportunities for graduates as home technology integrators and convergence technicians. “It is very exciting to be on the ground floor of two new career fields. We have the unique chance to prepare curriculum and train students in advance of the need,” she said. “This means jobs for our students--jobs that cannot be sent offshore easily.”

A home technology integrator helps consumers configure, interconnect and program systems within their home. For example, this technician might integrate a wireless personal computer network with a cable modem or DSL and a home entertainment system. A convergence technician would work in corporations or other large “enterprise environments” where he or she would address the quality of service for different kinds of traffic on a network.

The grant will also include work with emerging technology such as mobile devices and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and sensors. RFID tags are tiny tracking and communication device.

“As the distinction between your phone and computer blurs, things will be voice-activated and voice-driven,” she said. “Our focus is on supporting integration into the home network and business place.”

The college hopes to officially offer a convergence technology degree and certificate in the fall of 2005. However, parts of the program will be piloted sooner. “We have begun offering courses that are going to be part of the degree now,” Beheler said.

In addition, the partners will do heavy recruiting in area high schools and with underserved populations. The grant will also train collegiate faculty on how to teach convergence technology. “Very little of this will be standard lecture,” Beheler said. “It will be very hands-on. Faculty will become proficient with the technology, so they can facilitate student learning.”

Collin College serves more than 46,000 credit and continuing education students annually and offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs. The only public college in the county, Collin College is a partner to business, government and industry, providing customized training and work force development.