OP-TEC Awards Photonics Outreach Grants to Four Colleges

OP-TEC Awards Photonics Outreach Grants to Four Colleges

WACO, Texas (January 6, 2014) – The National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OPTEC) today announced sub grant awards to four colleges that will be used to encourage high school students to enroll in associate degree programs that prepare them for careers as photonics technicians.

Optics and photonics applications are rapidly transforming the way we work and live. Photonics involves the use of lasers and other electro-optical devices in fields such as manufacturing, medicine, aerospace, information technology, communications, defense, security, and solidstate lighting. Photonics applications offer technicians a variety of careers and professional advancement opportunities; yet many capable high school students are not aware of these rewarding career opportunities.

A recent OP-TEC study found that U.S. employers require 800 new photonics technicians each year, while two-year colleges are currently producing fewer than 300 graduates annually. Photonics employers are increasingly forced to hire unprepared technicians, or move their operations off shore. OP-TEC is supported by the National Science Foundation to increase the supply of well-prepared photonics technicians by building and strengthening the capacity and quality of photonics education in U.S. two-year colleges.

An important element in accomplishing that mission is to assure that colleges have a “pipeline” of new students that have graduated from local high schools with a career interest in photonics technology and adequate academic and technical preparation to be successful photonics students. Efforts to build the “high school pipeline” have been developed and tested by OP-TEC, using cost-effective strategies designed to inform students, parents and teachers about career opportunities in photonics and related fields and the requirements for entering and succeeding in postsecondary photonics education programs. In most cases, students can begin taking photonics while they are still in high school through dual-credit courses.

OP-TEC will award grants to each of the four selected colleges to increase photonics course enrollments through “high school pipeline” building efforts.

The laser program at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College was established in 2010 and is currently experiencing slow enrollment growth. CSTCC will use its grant to hire a dedicated part-time recruiter and to host a three-day photonics institute for high school science and technology teachers in June 2014. The institute will be a lab-based experience that will expose high school STEM teachers and students to laser and optics and the education and career opportunities available to students. Participant follow up will include donation of ten portable photonics kits to teachers, faculty visits to high school classes, and college campus visits for teachers and students. These efforts are intended to directly increase photonics career awareness and program enrollment.

Maui College will use its grant to hire a dedicated part-time recruiter to increase enrollment in its laser related programs that provide a qualified technical workforce for Maui’s rapidly growing science and technology industry. The recruiter will provide outreach services to eight targeted high schools and their feeder middle schools on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The dedicated recruiter will plan, prepare, and evaluate outreach initiatives, provide a direct and consistent point of contact for high school students, and allow faculty to dedicate their time to teaching, course preparation, curriculum development, projects, and research.

In 2013, Indiana University of Pennsylvania moved the Electro-Optics Technician associate degree program from its campus in Freeport, Pennsylvania to its main campus in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Moving the EO program to the main campus has geographically displaced it over an hour away from its existing network of high schools, causing enrollment to reach a low level in fall 2013. The EO program must quickly develop a new high school pipeline in this new service area. The OP-TEC grant will allow IUP to hire a dedicated part-time recruiter to visit high schools to establish relationships with administrators and faculty and provide high school students with information, materials, workshops, and summer camps to increase program enrollments for 2014. IUP will work with the high schools to develop dual credit courses and articulation agreements for the associate degree program.

Northwestern Michigan College is currently offering a dual-credit introductory photonics course to high school seniors in its service area. NMC will use its OP-TEC funds to hire a dedicated recruiter to interest students about the photonics course sequence in NMC’s Engineering Technology program and to provide scholarships to eleven high school students to enroll in the dual credit photonics course in fall 2014. NMC matching funds will be used to purchase lab and safety equipment for the program.

About OP-TEC

The National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OP-TEC) is a consortium of two-year colleges, high schools, universities, national laboratories, industry partners, and professional societies funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. The participating entities of OP-TEC have joined forces to create a secondary-topostsecondary “pipeline” of highly qualified and strongly motivated students and to empower high schools and community colleges to meet the urgent need for technicians in optics and photonics.

Contact: Dan Hull, Executive Director



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