Friday, December 11, 2009

Photonics Colleges Receive “High School Pipeline” Grants

Many colleges that offer educational programs in emerging technical fields are making innovative changes in their curricula and student recruiting strategies. Their goal is to increase the number of students who enroll in and complete their programs, and to make their curriculum content more relevant to changes in employer requirements for technicians. This is especially true for colleges with photonics programs.
  • Photonics specialties are being designed to build on a “systems-oriented” technical core that is capable of supporting related technologies such as robotics, telecommunication, microelectronics, and biomedical equipment. These revitalized programs have a broader student appeal than more narrowly focused programs because they prepare students to pursue interesting, rewarding careers in multiple advanced technologies.

  • Targeted recruiting efforts to build the “high school pipeline” have been created using cost-effective strategies designed to inform teachers and students about career opportunities in photonics and related fields and the requirements for entering and succeeding in postsecondary photonics education programs. In many cases, students can begin those programs while they are still in high school through dual-credit courses.

In the last three years, several of OP-TEC’s Partner Colleges have incorporated both of these strategies - resulting in an impressive 15-50% increase in student enrollment over the last two years. The colleges have documented their methodologies and achievements in monographs that have become models for photonics program improvement. Other photonics colleges have begun to adopt these “best practices,” hoping to realize similar improvements.

Two colleges that are rebuilding their photonics technician programs in an impressive manner are Central New Mexico Community College (CNMCC) and Monroe Community College (MCC). Over the last several years the well-established optics and photonics programs at these institutions have experienced severe declines in enrollment due to faculty retirement and an obvious need to update their curricula and labs. Early this year, these two colleges, with new faculty and significant support from regional photonics employer clusters, engaged in program improvement initiatives that resulted in a redesigned curriculum core that supports OP-TEC photonics infusion courses. The colleges have also engaged in partnerships with nearby high schools to develop dual-credit courses in photonics.

This week OP-TEC will award $15,000 matching grants to each college to increase its enrollment through “high school pipeline” efforts.

  • CNMCC will use its grant to hire a dedicated high school recruiter who will meet with students, parents, and teachers at nearby high schools to inform them of career opportunities for photonics technicians and opportunities to enroll in CNMCC’s photonics program, even while still in high school. This effort is patterned after the model developed by Indian River State College. The New Mexico Optics Industry Association is sponsoring high school dual-credit photonics courses in an effort to jump-start the process. In the summer of 2010, CNMCC will also conduct two week-long “boot camps” for secondary students who are interested in photonics, using the model developed by the Northpointe two-year campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (an OP-TEC Partner College).
  • MCC will use its grant to fund two four-day training programs for high school science and math teachers that will take place in the summer of 2010. The teachers will be introduced to a variety of fundamental concepts pertinent to optics and photonics. They will also participate in lab experiments that apply the concepts. The objective is for the teachers to be able to replicate those experiments in their classrooms. Through the OP-TEC grant, MCC will provide supplies for the labs of the participating high school teachers. MCC is supporting the high school outreach efforts through the NY/Rochester Photonics Industry Cluster and several high school intermediary organizations.

Increasing the number of completers of postsecondary photonics technician programs is vital to the security and economic competitiveness of our country. The demand for photonics technicians by our nation’s employers far exceeds the supply currently being produced by our colleges. Early this year, OP-TEC commissioned a national study by the University of North Texas (UNT) to determine the number of new photonics technicians needed by U.S. employers. The study concluded that 2100 new photonics technicians will be needed in 2010 and that 5900 more will be needed over the next five years. Last year, OP-TEC surveyed U.S. two-year colleges to assess our nation’s ability to produce new technicians. The results of this survey showed that the U.S. has 28 photonics colleges with a combined enrollment of 780 photonics students and about 230 completers each year. Obviously, the gap between supply and demand - 2100 needed versus 230 supplied - is large. OP-TEC is attempting to close this gap in three ways:

  • Starting new photonics education programs (Three colleges began offering photonics for the first time this fall.)
  • Increasing student enrollment in and completion of existing photonics education programs through the “HS pipeline” initiative
  • Helping colleges provide photonics education for employed technicians

For more information about the OP-TEC/UNT study, or to download the report, please visit

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Laser and Optics Applications Modules

The applications of lasers, optics and fiber optics in energy, manufacturing, telecommunications, medicine, defense, environmental control and consumer products have expanded enormously in the last decade - and new applications (such as displays and solid-state lighting) are emerging daily. For this reason, Photonics (lasers, optics and fiber optics) is regarded as a critical “enabling technology”. And because of this role, the need for new photonics technicians has grown to an annual rate of more than 2,100 jobs in 2009. (OP-TEC Industry Survey)

Some of these jobs are being filled by recent graduates of the 30+ photonics colleges in the U.S. Others are being filled by the infusion of photonics education/training in these photonics-enabled fields. Some colleges that offer technician programs in these other fields are adding photonics education to their existing curricula. Others are restructuring their technical curricula into an “electronics systems core” with specialties in emerging fields like photonics. And many colleges are beginning to offer photonics courses to employed technicians that have been reassigned to jobs using photonics equipment and processes.

OP-TEC has responded to these educational needs in photonics by creating flexible curriculum and teaching modules that can be used to adapt programs and courses to the variety of education and training requirements needed by industry. These modules are configured in two categories:

Two Foundation Courses in Photonics: “The Basics”
  • Fundamentals of Light and Lasers (six modules)
  • Elements of Photonics (six modules)

Nineteen Application Modules in Lasers, Optics, Electro-Optics and Fiber Optics: "The Photonics Enabled Technologies (PET)"

Applications in Manufacturing:

  • Laser Welding & Surface Treatment
  • Laser Material Removal: Drilling, Cutting & Marking
  • Lasers in Testing & Measurement: Alignment, Profiling and Position Sensing
  • Lasers in Testing: Interferometric Methods and Nondestructive Testing

Applications in Defense and Homeland Security:

  • Lasers in Forensic Science & Homeland Security
  • Infrared Systems for Homeland Security
  • Imaging System Performance for Homeland Security Applications

Applications in Biomedicine:

  • Lasers in Medicine & Surgery
  • Therapeutic Applications of Lasers
  • Diagnostic Applications of Lasers

Applications in Environmental Monitoring:

  • Basics of Spectroscopy
  • Spectroscopy & Remote Sensing
  • Spectroscopy & Pollution Monitoring

Applications in Optoelectronics:

  • Photonics in Nanotechnology
  • Photonic Principles in Photovoltaic Cell Technology
  • Photonics in Nanotechnology Measurements: A Study of Atomic Force Microscopy

Other Applications:

  • Principles of Optical Fiber Communications
  • Photonic Devices for Imaging, Storage & Display
  • Basic Principles & Applications of Holography

These modules, based on The National Photonics Skill Standards for Technicians, have been reviewed by industry experts and tested in classes/labs. They are being used in a variety of technical education curricula to support the photonics content needed in areas that are enabled by photonics. They will also be used by faculty and others to learn about these new applications of photonics in their particular field of interest.

OP-TEC will continue to add to these PET modules as the needs arise. In 2010, we will be focusing on energy and solid state lighting applications.

For more information about OP-TEC’s PET modules or to obtain review copies, please click here to visit our website. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail us at