Higher Ed

Sussex County Community College Helps Boost Precision Optics Industry

The American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM), a nationwide organization working with the Department of Defense (DoD) has embarked on a $34 million project intended to help strengthen and boost the domestic precision optics industry, including helping more people get into these high-paying jobs.

The first step AmeriCOM is taking is partnering with community colleges in key areas of the nation to secure educational opportunities for students, making them eligible for employment in the Optics industry.

Sussex County Community College (SCCC) is the first community college in the nation to partner with AmeriCom. SCCC will receive as much as $2 million to support the College’s Optics Technology program, creating a state-of-the-art lab, distance learning courses, and dual-credit programs at regional high schools.

“The 21st Century is the century of the photon, just as the 20th century was the century of the electron.” Said Tom Battley, Vice President of Government & Partnerships at AmeriCOM. “There is not an industry on the face of the planet that is not using optics & photonics in some way. Semiconductors, car back-up cameras and collision avoidance, your mobile smartphones, medical diagnostics, GPS imaging, and of course hundreds of applications in Defense and Aerospace. Night vision, laser defense, and much of what is on aircraft — the Apache Helicopter alone has over 300 optical systems. Every one of these systems needs optical engineers, and every optical engineer needs several optics technicians to create the optics and build something that will work in the real world. The demand for these skilled workers is very high.”

The Associates Degree in Applied Science and the Professional Certificates in Optics Technology at SCCC both focus on the manufacturing end of the industry. Moreover, they include courses in many other aspects of the industry. Students in the program apply the study of optics and the behavior of light to a manufacturing setting, readying them to embark on careers as technicians in the optics industry. In addition, students will learn advanced skills in understanding technical drawings.

Students in these programs not only learn about the foundation of the optics industry but also participate in hands-on courses for this robust industry.

“Given the nature of technology today, I cannot think of an industry sector that has not incorporated optics technology into the core of its products. Sensors, detectors, measurement, transmission of light, signaling, photography and video of every type, are present in essentially everything we use today. Automotive, Biomedical, Aerospace, Research, Consumer Products. This proliferation of optics applications has not been met with a proliferation of workers to produce these instruments and devices. Without these workers, the industry is crippled. We are thrilled to be able to partner with AmeriCOM on this all-important sector of the economy and to purchase the necessary equipment to train the current, and next generation, of workers in optics technology.”

SCCC has enjoyed a rich partnership with industry leader, Thorlabs in Newton, for several years. Many Thorlabs technicians receive additional training through the SCCC program and they expect the relationship to grow in the coming years.

“New Jersey has a rich history for R&D as well as manufacturing optics and photonics equipment, and as such is an ideal location to grow an Optics Technology program,” stated Paul Melone, business unit leader of Thorlabs’ Advanced Photonics group. “Thorlabs, along with Inrad Optics, Esco Optics, and Special Optics are excited to support and partner with Sussex County Community College as they launch this program. AmeriCOM continues to be an inspiration in our battle to develop optics technicians, assemblers, and opticians. This grant will be vital in providing state of the art manufacturing products and a knowledgeable workforce in the years to come.”

SCCC looks to meet the nationwide demand head on and model the successful program provided by Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. MCC remains one of the nations’ leading colleges for precision optics. SCCC is looking to replicate the MCC program and expand their Optics on campus and with new equipment provided by the grant.

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