OP-TEC Receives NSF Funding to Continue Photonics Technician Education
WACO, Texas (August 12, 2013) – The National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OP-TEC) has received renewed funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will continue operation of the OP-TEC National Center of Excellence through 2016. The $3.5 million grant provided through NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program will increase the supply of well-educated Photonics Technicians by building and strengthening the capacity and quality of photonics education in U.S. two-year colleges.
OP-TEC is a national consortium of two-year colleges, high schools, universities, national laboratories, industry partners, and professional societies who have joined forces to create a secondary-to-postsecondary “pipeline” of highly qualified and strongly motivated students and to empower community and technical colleges to meet the urgent need for technicians in optics and photonics. This urgent need was recently highlighted in a National Academy of Sciences report entitled Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation.
Photonics involves the interaction of optics and electronics in state-of-the-art, cutting edge technologies. It includes the use of lasers, optics, fiber-optics and electro-optical devices for manufacturing, health care, telecommunications, semiconductors, nanotechnology, environmental monitoring, homeland security, defense/aerospace and other areas critical to the success of our nation’s economy.
A recent study commissioned by OP-TEC shows that over 800 new photonics (laser/optics) technicians are needed each year, while our nation’s colleges are currently producing less than 300. Recent AAS photonics graduates are receiving multiple job offers with salaries in excess of $41,000 per year. Unfilled job openings are causing U.S. photonics employers to move certain of their operations offshore. OP-TEC is working with more than 30 two-year colleges throughout the nation to improve the quality and enlarge the enrollment of their Photonics Technician Education AAS programs and is assisting over 40 more colleges to start new programs.
OP-TEC serves secondary and postsecondary education programs devoted to lasers, optics, and photonics technology or technologies enabled by optics and photonics. OPTEC provides support through curriculum, instructional materials, assessment, faculty development, recruiting, and support for institutional reform. OP-TEC serves as a national clearinghouse for teaching materials; encourages more schools and colleges to offer programs, courses, and career information; and helps high school teachers and community and technical college faculty members develop programs and labs to teach technical content. OP-TEC’s 3000-square-foot facility in Waco houses administrative offices, a visitor center, a resource center, photonics pilot laboratory, and meeting space. The center provides both hands-on and visual exhibits representing photonics in education and industry, as well as a broad range of information and educational materials, both printed and online.
About NSF ATE:
With an emphasis on two-year colleges, the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program focuses on the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economy. The program involves partnerships between academic institutions and employers to promote improvement in the education of science and engineering technicians at the undergraduate and secondary school levels. The ATE program supports curriculum development; professional development of college faculty and secondary school teachers; career pathways to two-year colleges from secondary schools and from two-year colleges to four-year institutions; and other activities. Another goal is articulation between two-year and four-year programs for K-12 prospective teachers that focus on technological education. The program also invites proposals focusing on research to advance the knowledge base related to technician education. For information on the ATE program, visit www.nsf.gov/ate.
Contact: Dan Hull, Executive Director