Effective Practices for Starting Chemistry-Based Technology Programs

Creating a new chemistry-based technology program that meets the unique needs of students and hiring corporations is a challenging undertaking. Curricula must be responsive to the rapidly changing needs of employers, academically rigorous, and address the needs of students and the community.

From 1991 to 2009, the ACS Chemical Technology Approval Service (CTPAS) compiled effective practices using feedback from the ACS-approved chemistry-based technology programs and the experiences of CTPAS members. Although CTPAS has been discontinued, these practices continue to represent the prevailing wisdom for developing strong, industry-responsive chemistry-based technology programs.

Refer to the following practices for advice on starting a chemistry-based technology program at your institution.

Perform a needs analysis

To ensure that a chemistry-based technology program meets the needs in your area, form a committee that represents your stakeholders. Be sure to include local employers, working technicians, workforce development organizations, community members, potential students, K-16 faculty, and staff.

Some things to consider in the needs analysis:

  • What types of technicians are needed in your area, both in the near- and long-term?
  • Where will potential students come from?
  • What industries will provide experiential and employment opportunities?
  • What academic institutions will consider transfer of credit?

Identify partners for your program

Start with the committee you assembled for your needs analysis. Attend regional alliance or professional society meetings (such as ACS meetings) to identify industry partners. Your local chamber of commerce* and workforce development agencies should also be familiar with local industry. Be clear that you are seeking partners, not sponsors or donors. Be sure to also include secondary, two-year, and four-year institutions in your alliance, as well as community workforce organizations.

Partner with established chemical technology programs in your region

Partnering with another program will give you and technician students access to more resources. Find established chemistry-based technology programs using the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator tool*, ACS local meetings, or regional alliance meetings.

Find a mentor

Someone who has started a program before can be an invaluable source of advice and ideas. Try contacting established chemistry-based technology programs in your region, members of established alliances, or the Committee on Technician Affairs.

Work with your partners to develop mission and goals

The more specific the goals, the more focused your program will be. Identifying clear goals at the outset will reduce confusion among your partners and make the development of program assessment tools easier.

Develop a curriculum

The process of developing a curriculum provides a framework for future discussions with industry partners. Chemistry-based technology programs must be responsive to local needs. Therefore, there is no single curriculum that will cover all contingencies. Review Effective Practices for Maintaining and Strengthening Chemistry-Based Technology Programs to get started.

Work with industry partners to identify specific skills and knowledge graduates need

Several tools are available for developing a set of skill standards specific to you and your partners’ needs. Skill standards, such as those available from Bio-Link*, the National Network for Pulp and Paper Technology Training*, and the North American Process Technology Alliance*, can be customized to meet local/regional needs. A DACUM (Develop a Curriculum)*, WorkKeys*, or similar analysis program can be used to develop a new set.

Although it is possible to identify the specific skills and knowledge graduates will need through a series of focused meetings with the program partners, most programs find it helpful to use established skill standards and other tools to get started.

Generic skills sets can be used as a starting point. The U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET* is one source of such skill sets.

Align program needs with existing resources

Determine whether the identified skills and knowledge can be adequately provided by existing courses, or if new courses are needed. Although some programs have developed a unique set of courses specifically for their chemistry-based technology students, most programs find standard chemistry courses sufficient for about 70% of the curriculum.

Specialty courses focusing on laboratory work, capstone courses or projects, and internships, frequently comprise the remainder of the curriculum.

Note: Remember to consider your students. If you have a large portion of non-traditional students in your program, offering night, weekend, and summer courses may encourage them to enter and complete your program.

Quantitatively analyze the curriculum

Once you have developed a curriculum, you should document how well it matches the needs of local industry using a gap analysis or crosswalk.

  • Gap Analysis
    In a gap analysis, the material taught in the curriculum is compared to the needs of industry, and gaps between the two are identified and resolved. Often a set of skill standards is used. Skill standards are available from Bio-Link*, the North American Process Technology Alliance*, and the National Network for Pulp and Paper Technology Training*. Skill standards unique to your region may also be developed.
  • Crosswalk
    In a crosswalk, the curriculum is compared side-by-side with a set of standards, and found to be either complete or missing pieces. Anything missing from the curriculum is identified and added.

Develop assessment tools

You will need two kinds of assessment tools:

  1. Program outcome assessment
    Just because something is taught in class does not mean it is learned by the student. Outcome assessments provide a check that the program is effective in teaching students what they need to know.
  2. Industry alignment assessment
    The needs of industry change quickly. The alignment of the program with the needs of industry should be checked frequently and the program adjusted as needed.

Keep your partners involved

It is common for partners to be heavily involved in the planning and development of a program but lose interest once the program is functional. Keeping partners involved requires regular communication and meaningful projects. Here are some suggestions:

  • Assign primary responsibility of some aspect of the program to one of your partners.
  • Have frequent meetings with your partners.
  • Make the partners part of the curriculum. Have them serve as guest lecturers, give group tours, or review student presentations.
  • Have your partners divide into subcommittees to address specific problems or work on items of continuous improvement. The 2004 ACS report, Critical Issues and Effective Practices in Chemistry-Based Laboratory Programs , identifies nine areas that would make good topics for such projects.

* These resources are provided for informational purposes only. Listing of a product or service on this website does not constitute an endorsement by ACS.