Rochester, NY--Like many in the industry, Rochester optics companies are faced with a shortage of skilled technicians. To address this problem, the Rochester Regional Optics Cluster (RRPC), Monroe Community College (MCC), and local high schools are collaborating to broaden inner-city high-school students’ career opportunities and create a workforce pipeline.
Inspiring interest at the high-school level serves both local businesses and students. Many of these students who might struggle to afford traditional four-year degrees are unaware of career paths in skilled manufacturing. As local optics companies continue to expand and increase capabilities, they require a higher skill level from their workforce.
In fact, this problem (a shortage of skilled optics workers) was discussed earlier this year at SPIE Optifab 2011 (May 10-12 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center) in a panel discussion called "The Future of Optical Manufacturing in North America." The panel moderator was Thomas Battley of the New York Photonics Industry Association, while the panelists included Robert Edmund, (president, Edmund Optics), Michael Toro (senior director, business development and strategy, Schott North America), Stephen Fantone (president, Optikos Corporation), Chris Koliopoulos (president and CEO, Zygo Corporation), and Andrew Kulawiec (president, QED). Regarding technician-level education, the consensus was that corporations and academic institutions had to do more outreach to make sure that potential workers knew that technical optical careers were available and that there was an educational path to these careers.
RRPC, MCC, and affiliates run summer optics camp
In an example of this sort of outreach happening now, the business and academic community in Rochester are working together to address this shortage. The Summer Optics Sizzler, a four-day camp that ran June 27 to 30 and is in its second year, offered students hands-on experience in optics. Seats filled up quickly. Small teams participated in projects that included:
• Building an optical interferometer
• Building an LCD projector using a lens and LCD digital photo key chain
• Using fiber-optic cables as light pipes and determining transmission efficiency
• Creating 3-D images
The students worked with volunteer teachers like Joshua Cobb, a senior optical systems engineer at Corning Corporation and adjunct assistant professor at MCC, Jim VanKowenberg of Optimax, a Rochester manufacturer of glass optics, and Jennifer Kruschwitz, a consultant and University of Rochester professor. Dozens of other optics businesses, including Thorlabs (Newton, NJ), donated equipment and funds.
"Rochester is the only place in the world you can get an associates degree, bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. in optics," says RRPC executive director and camp organizer Tom Battley. "This program extends our reach to high schools. Our intention was to create the first-ever dual-credit optics program between high school and community college. The camp inspired enough interest to achieve that, and we’re now working to serve more students and expand to other area high schools."
About the organizers
The Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster (http://www.newyorkphotonics.org) is a not-for-profit organization founded to promote and enhance the New York State photonics, optics, and imaging industry by fostering the cooperation of business, academia, and government.
Monroe Community College (www.monroecc.edu) is the largest community college in Upstate New York by annual enrollment and is a primary educator of the local skilled workforce. MCC partners with school districts and four-year institutions, workforce development boards, industries, businesses and government. MCC notes that about 90% of its graduates preparing for a career stay within the greater Rochester area.