College aims to smooth CTE students’ path to diesel degrees

Published 01.23.2024

Diesel Truck, Heavy Equipment & Power Generation
Engineering Technologies
Faculty & Staff

A three-year $625,861 grant from the National Science Foundation aims to streamline the pathway to a Pennsylvania College of Technology education for diesel students enrolled at career and technical education centers.

“All of our big employers are hiring these 18-year-old diesel students,” said Justin W. Beishline, assistant dean of diesel technology and natural resources. “They’re recruiting them, they’re hiring them, and it kind of pigeonholes them into a lower-level position with limited advancement potential.”

“We’re not against industry employers,” he added. “I mean, they hire all of our students, too, and would hire more if we had them. It’s just that we’re losing students directly to industry because of the skills gap.”

More than $625,000 in National Science Foundation funding aims to streamline the pathway to a Pennsylvania College of Technology diesel degree for students at career and technical education centers, such as this participant in the Dec. 9 diesel competition at the college's Schneebeli Earth Science Center.

The NSF’s Advanced Technological Education grant will help the college meet three main objectives: developing and implementing a CTE-to-postsecondary diesel technology pathway, providing summer training to secondary instructors and – through an annual diesel competition and virtual training modules – raise awareness of Penn College’s diesel program among CTE students and their families.

Attaining those objectives is intended to serve the industry by increasing the number of CTE diesel students who earn credentials and credibility before entering the workforce, and enabling employers of diesel technicians to meet their staffing demands with a larger pool of workers holding advanced skills and competencies.

The Associated Equipment Distributors, which has invited Beishline to be a conference speaker this month, estimates there are 9,000 to 14,700 unfilled technician positions each year. This project aims to make it easier for CTE students to obtain higher education and a more rewarding and sustainable career trajectory, replacing the short-term gain of a paycheck.

“Pathway development is going to take the longest,” Beishline acknowledged, as it involves curriculum revision to remove redundant content and reduce the number of credits required – and the amount of tuition expended – by a CTE student in pursuit of a degree.

“Say we have Diesel Engine Overhaul for nine credits, theory and lab, and the level they get at their high school might be two credits’ worth,” Beishline explained. “There’s no way to separate that with our current curriculum. They’d have to start our course over from the beginning because we can’t just say, ‘Show up in Week Two.’”

Beishline has been appointed as the principal investigator for the grant, with three experienced faculty members as his co-PIs.

Department head Chris S. Weaver, assistant professor of diesel equipment technology, will work primarily on the diesel competition; Mark E. Sones, instructor of diesel equipment technology, has been assigned to plan, manage and implement the summer teacher training; and Brad R. Conklin, instructor of diesel equipment technology, will be responsible for virtual training of CTE students.

All four project leaders will tackle “Activity One,” development of the curricular pathway from vocational-technical school to a diesel technician certificate or an associate degree in diesel technology.

A portion of the grant (No. 2301087: “Diesel Technology Pathway from Career and Technical Education to Postsecondary Certification or Associate Degree”) will be used to purchase equipment – an air brake board and a hydraulics trainer, for instance – that will be of equal use to Penn College students and to the CTE faculty undergoing training at the Schneebeli Earth Science Center.

In addition to the summer workshops, a classroom at that campus will be converted into a studio of sorts for preparation of training videos for those instructors’ students.

“The goal is to eventually create 20 virtual videos and then, as long as we have the contact list for all of the diesel CTEs, we can blast them out,” Beishline said. “If students complete them, we’ll give their school a multimeter or some other training aid.”

Students are also the main beneficiaries of the college’s diesel competition, first held in 2021 but “new and improved” this year, Beishline said. Thanks to the NSF funding, Penn College could offer participants a free hotel room the night before the event and a food allowance during their stay.

For more information on diesel and other degrees offered by Penn College’s School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

NSF disclaimer