Photonics, the technology that incorporates optics and electronics (lasers, fiber-optics, electro-optics), is a rapidly expanding field that provides rewarding jobs for technicians and excellent opportunities for Midwest economic growth. Photonics is also an “enabling technology”, with wide-scale applications in manufacturing/materials processing, as well as in defense/homeland security, renewable energy, telecommunications, diagnostic and therapeutic medical equipment, environmental monitoring, opto-electronics/nanotechnology and solid state lighting. The employer demand for qualified photonics technicians nationwide is great and has continued to grow in recent years. In 2012, a national survey titled “Industry Demand for Two-Year College Graduates in Optics and Photonics Technology” reported that the Midwest region’s 500 photonics-driven companies project a need for an additional 939 technicians over the next five years.
Indian Hills Community College has established and is operating the Midwest Photonics Education Center (MPEC). The Center’s goals are to increase the supply of well-educated photonics technicians in the Midwest, and to serve as the national leader in photonics applications for advanced manufacturing and laser materials processing. MPEC will accomplish these goals by building and strengthening the number, capacity and quality of two-year photonics education programs in Midwest colleges. MPEC’s geographical region includes the U.S. states of Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, and Wisconsin. MPEC will support and coordinate efforts by institutions to: provide technical assistance, develop curricula, assess industry needs, perform outreach activities, develop and implement strategies to recruit and retain students including women, minorities and veterans and offer flexible training for incumbent technicians and dislocated workers. MPEC will disseminate new information on laser applications in advanced manufacturing and raise the awareness of high school students, parents and teachers about photonics, photonics technicians and photonics career opportunities. The Center will cultivate pathways to high-wage, high growth technical jobs for high school and community college students. Through the Center’s activities Midwest employers will gain essential information about colleges that offer photonics technical education and have access to photonics graduates for new hires. Moreover employers will have the opportunity to provide input and have oversight on the content of photonics curricula. The outcomes of center activities will provide employers more options for highly skilled new hires, stimulate the economic development of laser manufacturing companies in the Midwest, and build and strengthen the capacity and quality of photonics education in two-year colleges in the Midwest region.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1400561. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.