Accelerated Engineering Certificate at Holyoke Community College

Melissa Paciulli, Holyoke Community College, Adrienne Smith, Holyoke Community College, Gordon Snyder, Holyoke Community College, Ileana Vasu, Holyoke Community College


The Holyoke Community College (HCC) Team developed a unique approach to assist STEM students with accelerated learning in the Community College setting, which will position first year students for internships and research opportunities faster, to increase persistence and completion of a certificate. This program is focused on the recruitment of historically marginalized students and supports our Colleges Strategic Plan, to support the needs of our Hispanic student Community. Holyoke Community College is currently a HSI withroughly 26%Hispanic students. By supporting our student's development of technical skills, coupled with essential skills, students will be able to work in industry at an earlier point in their academic journey. We will be using high-impact practices, coupled with accelerated learning, in a supported community to fast track our students. Following recommendations from the Minority Serving Institutes, Americas Underutilized Resource for Strengthen the STEM Workforce, published in 2019 by the National Academies of Science, the team will intentionally prioritize supplemental instruction, embedded classroom peer mentoring and career preparation.See course sequence for the Certificate »

This certificate will be designed with the following:

  • An accelerated time frame (1-year full-time) to complete the certificate, which enables those students with family and work obligations to gain technical skills and employment in an in-demand industry quickly and return to the workforce.
  • Built-in high-impact practices which allows students to complete core competency skill building, while also learning humanistic, meta and essential skills that will position them for undergraduate research and/or internships.
  • Access to proven retention strategies by creating a cohort and community of students, who will learn together and be supported by HCC STEM peer mentors, teaching assistants and dedicated staff and administrators.
  • Unique access to a summer math accelerator which will support and improve their initial mathematical skills.
  • The accelerated engineering certificate program will provide participants with the skills to successfully complete an engineering internship following this program and after their first year.
  • Students who successfully complete the certificate, can move onto the internship options building confidence and stem identity to continue on toward an A.S. degree program in engineering.

Goals of the Program

  • Address the need for a more and better prepared engineering workforce.
  • Faculty taught, guided and mentored on how to create and facilitate a studio style course. These courses can be taught in parallel, faculty meet weekly and share about student progress, challenges and strengths.
  • Build relationships with local, regional, and national industry to support internship positions and hands on learning experiences. Our goal is to introduce students to experiential learning following 1 year of accelerated foundational knowledge instruction - which will fast track and solidify their engineering path.
  • The goal is to recruit, retain, and place a diverse number of students into the STEM workforce.
  • This certificate will allow students to create a STEM identity and build confidence in their ability to be an engineer early on in their engineering or educational path.

Learning Outcomes

Capstone Project :
In the capstone project students will be able to:

  • clearly state the goals of their project
  • recognize information needed for analysis of the issues, gaps in knowledge, assumptions, and uncertainty in decision
  • explain why ethical behavior is important
  • identify the issues and problems they are addressing
  • how those problems/issues impact all demographics within the community and/or larger region
  • respect and recognize (and potentially empathize with) perspectives of others
  • articulate several solution strategies
    • choose the optimal solution and identify the impacts of that solution
    • explain their solution verbally and in multiple forms or mediums and its relevance
    • include stakeholder feedback
  • use technology and software to outline problems or model solutions
  • identify benefits and risks (i.e., consequences, tradeoffs)
  • recognize short- and long-term goals of making a particular decision
  • articulate logic behind their ethical choice

Details on Three Critical Components: Humanistic, Meta, and Foundational

Our team will use a tiered building block competency model, which builds knowledge based on a humanistic approach, then integrating meta and finally combining with foundational knowledge.

Key Humanistic Knowledge Components 

  • Cultural competence, trust and confidence, sense of belonging, sense of STEM identity, awareness and understanding of underrepresented students/populations in STEM academics and industries, knowledge of neurodiversity and other abilities building long term relations, ethical and emotional awareness, career and jobs.   Including stakeholders in your engineering process through public participation, buy-in and transparency.

Key Meta Knowledge Components 

  • Meta-knowledge components: Critical thinking/problem solving, communication (oral or written), collaboration and team-work, creativity and innovation.   Giving and receiving constructive feedback. The curriculum in this program will reflect meta-knowledge components through group projects, active engagement, student presentations, and capstone projects. Courses will be designed around meta-knowledge and humanistic knowledge components.
  • Students will be able to show proficiency in Technical Writing to include awareness of universal design principles.

Key Foundational Knowledge Component: 8-week courses 

  • Students will develop foundational knowledge of engineering and scientific principles that serve all areas of engineering.  The purpose of the 8-week courses is to help them develop an awareness of engineering pathways and elementary knowledge of the principles of engineering and engineering design to help guide decisions about future educational pathways. Areas of engineering such as Civil Engineering (Environmental, Transportation (Logistics), Structural, Materials), Systems / Industrial Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical/ Robotics Engineering, Biotechnology, Bioengineering, and how these areas connect in real life, will be featured in our Studio Model Engineering courses.
  • Studio Model.  Engineering and Math will be team- developed and taught in a studio environment where students are given problems about engineering whose solutions often require them to learn or to better understand certain mathematical principles. Our studio model will have students engaged in working on engineering mini -problems to motivate them to learn both the science and mathematics to solve them.  In this model, students will work in groups on projects to develop their critical thinking skills, content knowledge, collaboration and communication skills. As they gain confidence and expertise students will be able to defend their strategies to the class and to each other.  The studio class will allow groups to work at their own pace, yet come together to share findings, listen to each other and other speakers or participate in field trips. Math content will emerge naturally from the design of the tasks students will engage in.
  • Students will develop mathematics proficiency through the Math Accelerator Program (aimed at developmental math) and through the Studio Engineering Courses (aimed at developing more advanced mathematical skill in the context of engineering).

Use of Math accelerator - will increase and speed up math proficiency. They will take these courses prior to entering the program and during the summer.


  • Courses must be entry level and have prerequisite met.
  • 29 credits or less.
  • Has to be stackable into a degree program
  • Have to be eligible unemployment.

Assessing Program Outcomes

Quantitative Measures

  • Internship Placements # and Quality of Placement
  • Capstone Project 
    • Students will be engaged in a capstone project:  to complete this certificate that uses their foundational, meta skills into a humanistic area. Example - to graduate with a certificate, you must use math, science, and technical skill to help serve the community finding a solution to an existing engineering problem in this
    • students work collaboratively in pairs, need to demonstrate/illustrate verbally and orally)
    • Students will be proficient in professionalism
  • Student Portfolio  
    • portfolios will show student's progression through each of the courses, studios and classes
  • Course and Program Completion Rates and Course Grades
  • Transfer to or into a STEM degree at HCC or Job in Industry

Qualitative Measures 

  • Student Participation in Outreach, Community Service, out of school STEM events
  • Student Focus Groups
  • Student Surveys

See course sequence for the Certificate »