SPARC3 Program is a finalist for prestigious Bellwether Award
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SPARC3 Program is a finalist for prestigious Bellwether Award

A Gaston College initiative designed to ignite student curiosity and prepare future Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) professionals for success in an evolving work environment has been selected as one of the 2016 Bellwether Finalist Award Winners. The Bellwether Awards recognize outstanding and innovative programs and practices that are Sparc3 Logosuccessfully leading community colleges into the future. The Gaston College program, “It All Begins with a SPARC3: The Power of Inquiry and Undergraduate Research at the Community College,” is one of ten finalists in the Instructional Programs & Services (IPS) category.

The IPS category recognizes programs or activities that have been designed and successfully implemented to foster or support teaching and learning in the community college. Other award categories are Planning, Governance & Finance and Workforce Development. One thousand programs were nominated for the 2016 Bellwether Awards. From the 200 applications that were submitted, a total of 30 finalists—ten in each category—were named.

Finalists were selected based upon how well their applications addressed: the conference theme of “No Ordinary Pathways: Understanding the Unique Student Journey”; an identified critical issue in higher education; other application criteria, including identifying the issue or challenge the program was designed to address, describing how the program was implemented, specifying results and impact, and elaborating on lessons learned for colleges who may want to replicate the program.

The application submitted by Gaston College described the SPARC3 initiative from its inception in 2009 and documented its goals, challenges and successes, including receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation to help build the program, the dramatic 197 percent increase in Gaston College’s Associate of Science program since the start of the SPARC3 initiative, and the College’s certification by the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education—one of only two community colleges in the nation to have earned this certification.

Heather Woodson, Dean of the Gaston College Arts and Sciences division, has been spearheading the SPARC3 initiative with Ashley Hagler, SPARC3 Director, and Melissa Armstrong, Science and Math Chair. The team submitted the Bellwether Award application after receiving a nomination. “Being named a finalist for the Bellwether Award is a huge honor for Gaston College,” said Woodson. “If we go on to win the award in our category, the SPARC3 initiative will be recognized for its innovation and may be considered a model for similar programs in other community colleges around the United States.”

Woodson and other representatives from Gaston College will present the SPARC3 program at the Community College Futures Assembly which takes place in the Hilton Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in January 2016. All finalists will be honored at the Bellwether Finalist Awards reception on January 25, and the 2016 Bellwether Award Winners will be announced on Tuesday, January 26.

The Bellwether Awards and the Community College Futures Assembly are under the umbrella of the Bellwether College Consortium, which is affiliated with the University of Florida College of Education. The Bellwether College Consortium promotes effective post-secondary programs for replication at higher education institutions across the nation and actively positions colleges to pursue various funding opportunities. The Consortium also provides a platform for its members to collaborate on potential joint ventures while having access to educational thought leaders.

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