Building Nanotechnology and STEM Programs

Professor Rick Vaughn,
Rio Salado College

A current universal challenge for all of us is – how do we build enrollments in our nanotechnology programs? Professor Rick Vaughn, Rio Salado College, an NCI -Southwest (NCI-SW) partner, addressed this question directly in the February 2019 NCI-SW webinar.

Rio Salado College, headquartered in Tempe, Arizona is one of the premier online learning colleges in the country; it is the “college without walls.” Vaughn saw an opportunity to combine Rio’s strong online presence, with a potential to offer lab activities locally and leverage the partnership with the NCI-SW NanoFab at Arizona State University. His goal was to offer authentic learning experiences to students, with a vision to build the nanotechnology program. The primary challenge was how would they attract the students?

The process involved working through three evolutions of marketing concepts: first, a clever poster, but it didn’t seem to reach the right audience. Next, was to attempt to relate to students through products that contain nano – “nano leads to big things.” It was great idea, but people said “we really don’t understand.” Vaughn then turned his focus on jobs, the opportunity for specific jobs and careers. Industry partners became engaged and then they began thinking outside of the box. The realization was made, that the connection to real work life experiences would be key.

Promoting that concept became the next vital step. They hired a marketing firm, crafted a message around real people and the theme: Nano Knows No Limits

Click on this link to see one of Rio’s Nano Knows No Limits videos,

A result of this marketing strategy resulted in a unique AAS program pathway, with a six-credit capstone experience being developed and marketed as authentic work-like experiences.

Did it work – you bet! Professor Vaughn provided these enrollment numbers:

  • 2016: zero
  • 2017: 18
  • 2018: 30+
  • Wow!

You can hear Professor Vaughn’s presentation and the presentations of his two colleagues here.