How to Start a Partnership

Partnerships can play an integral role in building strong educational programs and motivating students for academic success. Every partnership is unique.

Here are some tips to help you get started!

Identifying potential partners

Start by identifying who is most interested in your students. Are your students transferring to other academic programs? You will want to partner with four-year institutions. Partnering with other two-year institutions will also help you reach “swirling” students, who attend a variety of schools to meet their needs.

Are your students trying to enter the workforce? You will want to partner with local industry. Identify the types of businesses in the region, their hiring needs and factors that might influence future needs.

Where are your students coming from? You will want to partner with K-12 institutions, as well as workforce development organizations, that will be good sources of potential students.

You can meet potential partners through academic conferences, ACS local section meetings, and the local Chamber of Commerce, among other places.

You may also wish to identify other educational providers in the region, government interests and initiatives, and community groups.

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Laying the groundwork

Organize a series of meetings to lay the groundwork for the partnership. Although conference calls and online meetings are useful, at least one or two of the early meetings should be face-to-face. This will facilitate connections among the partners and give you a sense of how you will function together.

During these early meetings, you will want to accomplish the following:

  1. Identify common interests
    These will form the basis of your partnership’s goals. For example, both two- and four-year institutions are interested in transfer students that are well-prepared for their third year of college.
  2. Identify leaders
    Who in your group is good at motivating others, fostering collaboration, and resolving conflict? A good leader is a key factor in the success of your partnership.
  3. Identify any other potential partners
    Is there any institution that is missing? For example, a two-year college may partner with a high school to encourage high school students to pursue careers in science. It may be useful to include the local workforce development organization, which works with many people seeking a career change.

Identifying common interests is particularly important, as these will form the basis of the partnership’s goals. Common interests/goals will guide partnership activities and help focus partners should conflicts arise.

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Defining partnership goals

Here are some questions to consider for defining goals:

What are your common interests?

Elaborate on the common interests you identified when laying the groundwork. Both two- and four-year institutions may be interested in “transferable” students, but does that mean that they have to be able to interpret an NMR spectrum, run the instrument, or troubleshoot problems with it?

If you want to see more students pursuing science careers, what types of careers do you want them to pursue? Do you want to encourage their interest in science, or do you want to focus on ensuring they are prepared for those careers?

What is the scope of the partnership?

Partnerships can support a broad range of activities. Do you want a short-term partnership to organize a one-time outreach event or long-term partnership to manage a training course for incumbent technicians or a two-year transfer program?

Many partnerships start out as small, short-term partnerships and grow. When defining the scope, it can be helpful to allow for the possibility of change as needs and plans evolve.

What do you hope to accomplish?

Determine how you will know you have been successful. For an outreach event, you may simply want to have as many students participate as possible, or you may want to convince them to pursue a science-based career. For a transfer program, you want to prepare students for study at a four-year institution.

What do you need to accomplish your goals?

Every partner will have a role to play in reaching your common goals. (See Roles & Responsibilities below.) However, most partners will also need help. Though the needs of all partners may appear to be obvious, explicitly identifying and addressing the needs of each stakeholder will help keep everyone engaged and focused. Here are some examples:

  • Program coordinators
    Curriculum goals, equipment, funding, students, and appropriate training for faculty
  • Other academic institutions
    Program content that allows students to transfer easily from one institution to another
  • Industry partners
    A strong technical workforce that can start work with little to no in-house training
  • Community partners
    The needs of community partners vary depending on the type of organization that’s involved. Examples include (1) a local chamber of commerce with a vested interest in a strong workforce, (2) a workforce development organization that helps people find better jobs, and (3) an independent organization that operates an after-school science program

Once the goals of the partners are identified, find areas where individual goals overlap and complement each other. These will become the goals of the partnership. Partnership goals vary widely, but here are a few examples:

  • Update, improve, and customize student competencies
  • Develop curricula, course content, and programs
  • Establish research and workplace experiences for students
  • Provide professional development activities for faculty
  • Share financial, capital, and human resources
  • Coordinate speaking engagements for students
  • Monitor education and employment trends
  • Provide career guidance to students
  • Communicate events to the public
  • Write reports on findings and activities

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Establishing roles and responsibilities

Establishing the roles each partner will play is important to building and sustaining a successful partnership. Here are some responsibilities that different types of partners may assume.

PartnerRoles and Responsibilities
Educator• Build courses, curricula, and programs • Articulate with other educational institutions • Encourage faculty and students to take advantage of experiential programs • Provide financial, capital, and human resources • Ensure that students have well-rounded educational experiences
Community• Coordinate public outreach activities such as career days • Participate in local or regional academic and skill standards initiatives • Encourage participation in faculty development opportunities
Industry• Identify workplace competency requirements • Identify business and employment trends • Provide financial, capital, and human resources • Encourage employees to participate in alliance activities • Provide public awareness programs • Participate in career guidance activities • Provide scholarships
Labor Organization• Participate in identifying and validating competencies • Promote continuing education for workers • Ensure that current workers have access to professional development opportunities • Participate in certification and portfolio initiatives
Government• Endorse processes to identify and validate industry-based competencies • Establish portfolio, certification, and credentialing frameworks • Establish and monitor safety/health and environmental data • Provide seamless link between secondary and postsecondary education

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Maintaining a partnership

Keeping a partnership strong can be as challenging as starting one. What can you do to keep partners engaged?

  • Meet on a regular basis. Even a quarterly conference call helps keep the partners engaged.
  • Engage in public relations and outreach.
  • Continuously exchange financial, capital, and human resources, such as equipment, guest lecturers, and research projects and assistants.
  • Update materials regularly. Regular review of anything the partnership produces, be it course curricula or outreach materials, keeps the partners engaged and helps identify next steps.
    : If the partnership has developed something complex, such as a chemistry-based technology program, it may be simpler to update just a portion of it each year.
  • Bring in new partners to keep the partnership growing.

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