OP-TEC's mission is to build the capacity of U.S. two-year colleges to provide the quality and quantity of photonics technicians needed in this critical field. To date the center has: Developed seven exemplary Partner Colleges that serve as models, mentors, test sites and regional leaders in specialized photonics technician areas; Launched four Regional Photonics Clusters of employers and colleges, using Partner Colleges for leadership; Supported nine colleges in initiating new photonics AAS degree programs; Assisted five colleges to restore declining or closed photonics programs; Worked with 108 colleges to plan new programs; and Developed a strategy for increasing the number of high school students who enter the optics and photonics field. In addition the center has conducted faculty development, developed curricular material, and has begun work developing a program for precision optics.
In this project, the center, along with Partner Colleges and in cooperation with business and industry, is encouraging and developing additional optics and photonics programs or optics and photonics specializations within related majors (for example, in engineering technology) at two-year colleges; developing additional ways to attract more students into these program; developing course material in emerging areas; providing faculty development; enlarging strategies to recruit veterans with related experience into the programs; increasing the number of members of groups under-represented in these programs; and developing short programs for technicians already in the field. The center is developing materials and encouraging colleges to develop concentrations in precision optics to meet employer demand
The Intellectual Merit of this proposal resides in its focus on photonics, photonics-enabled technologies, precision optics, and emerging applications of photonics that impact U.S. security and economic development. Expanding capacity for producing photonics and precision optics technicians also guarantees that there are rewarding jobs for US students and that employed technicians receive additional education and training to secure their jobs and support needed technical innovation.
The Broader Impacts lie in 1) growth in student completers due to increase in programs and enrollment through OP-TEC outreach/retention strategies, including regional clusters/centers, 2) expansion of photonics education in photonics-enabled technologies, retraining employed technicians and developing precision optics programs, and 3) new efforts to attract returning veterans and underrepresented populations by educating faculty and administrators in diversity awareness as well as recruitment and retention strategies.