Monday, May 18, 2009

Photonics Summer Camps and Institutes for High School Teachers and Students

Emerging technologies such as photonics and nanotechnology must be experienced to be appreciated. Unfortunately, community and technical college offerings in these fields are some of the best kept secrets in the country. High school teachers, counselors, students - and their parents - need to experience these technologies first hand, and they need to learn about the wonderful, rewarding career opportunities that are available to young people.

Visits by college representatives to high schools and “gee whiz” demonstrations may open some doors, but they must be followed up by experiences in the college laboratories where students and their teachers can see how the equipment is being used and to participate in “hands-on” lab activities.

The “middle 50%” of our high school achievers are frequently not encouraged to consider careers in emerging technologies. Most of these young people are capable of mastering the math, science and technology that these careers require - and they are more inclined to enjoy and benefit from education when they see that it has a purpose. They deserve these rewarding, challenging jobs that are available to them, and our country deserves the talents that they can provide if they are encouraged and educated.

Colleges that offer technician education programs in new and emerging technologies must be engaged in intense, focused outreach efforts to high school students, teachers and counselors to build the “high school pipeline” and strengthen their enrollments. Some of the institutions in OP-TEC’s Photonics College Network (OPCN) have initiated novel and successful outreach efforts to nearby high schools.
Two of them have written monographs, documenting their strategies and successes.

Texas State Technical College (TSTC) Waco employs a young, marketing-trained recruiter and the regional Tech Prep coordinator to make the initial contact with high schools throughout the state. Interested teachers, students and counselors are invited to attend hands-on, one-week summer institutes in lasers and nanotechnology. The classes are held in the TSTC labs and the attendees reside in on-campus dorms. The TSTC monograph contains descriptions of recruitment strategies, format/agenda of the institute, costs, labs/equipment and the participant manual. Enrollment in each year has doubled; this summer (the 3rd) enrollment is expected to be 60 attendees (~3 institutes). Examples of comments from participants include:

“..The presenters and presentations were excellent…I will be recommending this venue to my counterparts and my students.” (teacher)

“The LEO program is really awesome. It doesn’t just teach you about lasers, it also teaches responsibilities….I plan on coming back for the week program next year. I also hope to come to TSTC for college after that.” (student)

Indiana University of Pennsylvania's (IUP) Northpointe Regional Two-Year Campus, uses a comprehensive approach with nearby high schools that has four elements. These four elements are provided below and presented, in detail, in the IUP monograph.

  1. Presentations in High School Classrooms - Hands-on presentations about lasers and electro-optics to high school 10th and 11th grade science classes reinforce the science principles, show interesting applications and describe career opportunities and educational pathways.
  2. On-Campus Electro-Optic Experiences - Half day sessions at the college for 30-40 high school sophomores, juniors, seniors and their teachers, to familiarize them with EO labs and college life @ IUP.
  3. Electro-Optics (EO) Summer Camps for Students - One week sessions where students experience laser and optics science/technology and learn about career opportunities from local and regional employers.
  4. Workshops for Teachers and Counselors - One-day experiences to participate in laser/electro-optics hardware activities/demonstrations, discuss educational plans and tour local electro-optics industries.

Over the last three years the outreach efforts have grown from serving 500 students and teachers in 2005-06, to over 2000 students in 2007-08. They have contributed to significant student interest and enrollment growth.

To view, save and/or print these monographs from the OP-TEC website, please click on the title(s) below to access the monograph PDF file.

TSTC Waco’s Photonics Summer Institutes for High School Science & Technology Teachers

Authors: Dr. Larry Grulick & John Pedrotti, TSTC; Dan Hull, OP-TEC

Outreach Activities to Enlist High School Students for Electro-Optics Technician Programs at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Northpointe Two-Year Campus
Authors: Dr. Feng Zhou, IUP; Dan Hull, OP-TEC

For more information about OP-TEC's free Program Planning Guides and monographs or to request a complimentary bound copy, please click here.

Contact Information:

For more information about the TSTC Summer Institute, please contact

For more information about the IUP outreach activities, please contact

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Photonics College Network

Last week I wrote about the rewarding career opportunities for photonics techs that are educated/trained at two year colleges. I also mentioned that there are over 25 community and technical colleges in the U.S. that prepare students for these careers. Most of these colleges have hard-working, competent faculty and excellent facilities. Some have new photonics offerings, some have been in operation for over 30 years - and some are struggling to overcome obstacles, such as low enrollment, retiring faculty or curricula that needs a “new look”. Overall, these colleges currently have about 700 photonics students and 280 completers each year. (Recall that our recent study revealed that U.S. employers need about 2100 new photonic techs this year.)
OP-TEC is working hard to close the gap between supply and demand. We are working with over 200 colleges that are considering or planning new programs in photonics; but new programs take time to develop - this is our long-term strategy. Our short term strategy is to help some of the 30 colleges with existing photonics programs to revitalize and grow. We believe, that with some assistance, the existing programs could significantly increase their output of completers in 2-3 years. (We’ve seen that happen in the last 3 years with our 7 Partner Colleges.) Some of that assistance will come from OP-TEC, but much of the help they need is what they can provide for each other by networking and sharing best practices. To facilitate this OP-TEC is forming the OP-TEC Photonics College Network (OPCN).

Membership in OPCN is available for faculty and administrators of two-year colleges that offer courses/programs in optic and photonics. There is no fee to join, but members will benefit - and be a benefit to others, if they are active, in terms of communication, information-sharing and participation in electronic and/or on-site meetings.

Potential benefits include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Opportunities to network with photonics faculty and administrators of approximately twenty-five U.S. colleges currently or recently offering photonics education.
  2. Access to OPCN e-mail distribution list, member roster, web forum and other networking tools to collaborate and exchange ideas and best practices.
  3. OP-TEC curriculum designs, teaching modules, planning guides and monographs of best practices in photonics education.
  4. Professional development opportunities and technical assistance through OP-TEC to update, enhance and strengthen photonics programs.
  5. Support and information on how to increase program enrollment.
  6. Identification of state-wide photonics employers and access to needs assessment survey process.
  7. News updates on emerging trends in photonics applications and educational innovations.
  8. Eligible for OP-TEC Mini-Grants for program improvement.
  9. Information about other potential grant opportunities such as NSF/ATE, DOE and DOL grants.
  10. Opportunities for OP-TEC fellowships to attend conferences or workshops.
  11. Information on lab equipment availability, used equipment donations or auctions and possible exchange program.
  12. Use of and training on OP-TEC’s hybrid, online course for high school dual credit and for retraining employed technicians.

The inaugural meeting of OPCN will take place July 19-20, in Phoenix, during the pre-conference of the HI-TEC conference. A limited number of Fellowships to attend HI-TEC are available to OPCN members through OP-TEC. To learn more about the HI-TEC conference, visit

The Photonics Colleges represent an enormously important national resource. They are a critical link in providing the competent workforce that U.S. employers will need to remain globally competitive in this emerging technical field.

For more information about OPCN or to request a membership application, please contact Donna Flanery at or call 254-741-8338 x394.