OP-TEC Awards Photonics Outreach Grants to Four Colleges
WACO, Texas (March 3, 2015) – 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 Associate of Applied Science in Photonics and Laser Technology (AAS PLT) program at Baker College of Flint is a fairly new program established in fall 2013. Since the start of the program, student retention and student recruitment has been a challenge, especially recruiting high school students into the program. Baker College of Flint will use its grant to hire a dedicated recruiter and develop a dual-credit photonics course. The course will be a version of Baker’s Introduction to Photonics and Laser Technology course offered in a high school semester format. This initiative will help increase enrollment in the AAS PLT program and increase awareness of the photonics field and of careers in photonics in the community and in the wider area.
For more than three decades, Central New Mexico Community College has been offering elements of photonics technician education and training and is currently including photonics into its Advanced Systems Technology A.A.S. degree program. Student enrollment has plateaued without having a dedicated recruiter for the program. CNM will use the OP-TEC grant along with the college’s matching funds to hire an outreach specialist to recruit for the Advanced Systems Technology program. The outreach specialist will visit high schools within CNM’s geographic area of responsibility, participate in college and career fairs, and meet with high school curriculum staff to promote dual credit opportunities.
Northwestern Michigan College offers a dual-credit introductory photonics course to high school seniors in its service area. NMC has been developing its recruitment program to improve relations with local high schools and increase student enrollment for its A.A.S. degree program in Engineering Technology (electrical and photonics studies). NMC will use the OP-TEC grant for its dedicated recruiter to visit local high schools and teach mini-classes from the OP-TEC Fundamentals of Light and Lasers introductory course to high school students. In addition, NMC will use the OP-TEC funds along with its matching funds to provide scholarships to twenty-one high school students to enroll in the dual credit photonics course.
The Puerto Rico Photonics Institute in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the first and only institute of its kind in Puerto Rico. PRPI provides education, research, workforce development and outreach in areas of laser, optics and photonics. Through its New Horizons initiative, PRPI will provide training and work experience to prepare participants for careers in photonics. The OP-TEC grant will be used to build a strong and focused marketing campaign and hire a part-time marketing and communications consultant. The consultant will develop and coordinate a comprehensive island-wide marketing program to promote PRPI’s New Horizons Photonics Program to local secondary schools and industry.
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