Montana Space Grant Consortium Hands-on STEM Certificate

Angela Des Jardins, Montana State University-Bozeman and Randal Larimer, Montana State University-Bozeman


Many Montana higher education students don't currently have good access to the real-world STEM experience employers desire. This is due to many factors, such as institutional focus on academic learning and relatively low number of local pre-graduation training and research opportunities. Therefore, Montana Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) has created a hands-on STEM certificate that will form a guided path to prepare the participants to start their careers. This certificate is not a traditional group of coursework that is recorded on a transcript, but is a set of guided non-coursework modules that leads to a student-built professional portfolio. Throughout the certificate process, the participants will be supported by a committee made up of their campus MSGC Affiliate Representative, their research group mentor(s), and a MSGC staff member. Students may start work toward the certificate at any time and can complete some parts in parallel.

MSGC is in a unique position to offer this certificate program because we have a decades-old collaborative network that includes all Montana higher education institutions with at least one STEM degree as well as industry partners. In addition, the main focus of MSGC is to engage Montana's higher education students in hands-on workforce development programs for NASA and STEM industry.

The certificate consists of five parts. Each part incorporates, in the terms described by the NSF STEM Futures project, "humanistic" (to value), "meta" (to act) and "foundational" knowledge (to know). The first part is a set of preparatory modules that is completed asynchronously. The second part is an introductory hands-on research experience or workshop. The third is a deeper dive into a specific topic with a research group. Topics include high altitude ballooning, unmanned aerial systems, small satellites, and other active Montana space STEM projects. The forth part focuses on supporting the participants' search for the right opportunity as well as helping them create a professional application that showcases skills and talents. Finally, the fifth part of the certificate is the completion of a focused paid internship or in-depth research experience. Successful certificate completion will result in a professional portfolio that will be used for industry internship or job placement processes. Building the professional portfolio will also help remind participants of the lessons they learned and will reinforce the participants' confidence. The resulting professional portfolio will increase the likelihood that the participants will receive the internship or job offer that they desire.

To receive the certificate, the participant's portfolio is formally reviewed by the student's committee according to the assessment guide described in the Program Level Details. The portfolio will reflect the individual's interests and values as well as their technical accomplishments.

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Goals of the Certificate Program

  1. Prepare participants to start their STEM careers by guiding them through building a professional STEM-based portfolio that clearly demonstrates their abilities and perseverance
  2. Help participants stand out from others when applying for STEM internships and jobs
  3. Give participants the real world STEM experience employers desire
  4. Develop participants' soft skills for today's workplace
  5. Develop participants' critical thinking skills
  6. Develop participants' problem solving skills
  7. Develop participants' teamwork participation and building skills
  8. Develop participants' conflict management skills
  9. Develop participants' understanding of professionalism and ethics
  10. Provide Montana college researchers with pre-trained students
  11. Generate a higher number of Montana-trained students who are prepared to succeed in hands-on efforts in research and industry


More information about the process to achieve these outcomes is given in the Program Details page.

Process Objective 1
Participants complete all certificate parts: preparatory knowledge modules, introductory hands-on research experience or workshop, a first hands-on research experience, finding the in-depth opportunity that fits, and the completion of a focused paid internship or in-depth research experience.

Process Objective 2
Participants create a Professional Online Portfolio.

Outcome Objective 1
Participants have the foundation they need to succeed in the workplace with respect to teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, conflict management, professionalism, and hands-on experience.

Outcome Objective 2
Montana mentors have access to prepared participants' for their research programs.


Participants have a Certificate Committee, made up of their campus MSGC Affiliate Representative, their research mentor, and a member of the MSGC staff. This Committee supports the participants' throughout the process by meeting with them and reviewing their professional portfolio development at least every three months, and more often during their research project. The Committee will also conduct the formative assessments, which include:

  1. Review inquiry and scientific processes learned through the RCR.
  2. Discuss participants' initial personal and career goals statement.
  3. Discuss participants' preparatory knowledge module journal.
  4. Provide feedback on participants' first research experience video.
  5. Provide feedback on participants' in-depth research presentation(s) and final report.
  6. Conduct a mock job interview, using the draft professional portfolio.

The participants' summative assessment is the formal review of the professional portfolio by the participant's  Certificate Committee.

Every year for five years after the participant receives their certificate, the certificate effectiveness will be assessed via student, Certificate Committee, and academic/industry surveys. (Like all Space Grant Consortia do for student NASA tracking).

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