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Executive Perspectives on Education

Photonics.com
Jan 2010
Jan. 29, 2010 — The conversation touched upon a number of topics, but the most spirited discussion during the “Executive Perspectives on the World of Optics and Photonics” panel on Wednesday surely involved the subject of education. It began when Kenneth Kauffman, vice president at Hamamatsu Corp., noted that societal compensation has become “totally distorted” over the past 25 years, to the point where our best and brightest are interested only in careers in finance. There is no longer any motivation for them to pursue careers in engineering, or even medicine, he said - adding a few choice words about the financial industry and its role in the current economic morass.

A moment later, an audience member stepped up to the microphone and described a recent NSF report concluding that, if children aren’t introduced to optics and photonics at the elementary school level, they are far less likely to enter the field later in life. She then asked why there hasn’t been more of an industry-wide push to teach the subject in the early grades, especially as companies are having so much difficulty finding good optical engineers.

This led to one of the more animated portions of the afternoon. Robert Edmund, CEO and chairman of the board at Edmund Optics Inc., said many such efforts already exist - at universities, for example - though there may not be a tremendous amount of coordination between them. Stuart Schoenmann, president and CEO of CVI Melles Griot, added that SPIE has developed optics and photonics kits for elementary school children and is seeking the best way to deploy them.

Dennis Werth, vice-president of precision components and systems business with Newport Corp. chimed in next, noting that he had volunteered in schools through Junior Achievement. “Everyone here should look into these programs,” he said, adding that schools are always thrilled to have professionals come in to tell children about their areas of expertise.

Moderator Tom Hausken, director of components practice at Strategies Unlimited, agreed that this was a good idea and asked the panel members if their respective companies would allow employees to take time to volunteer in schools - to teach the kids about optics and photonics, and hopefully inspire them to pursue further studies in the field as they get older. Several hands on the panel went up in a positive show of support. (I don’t recall whose hands didn’t, but the event was videotaped. I’m just saying.)

Schoenmann suggested that SPIE and other organizations encourage their members to volunteer in schools. “Great idea,” responded one of the other executives (either Hausken or Timothy Morris, managing director of TRUMPF Inc.), adding that anything SPIE could provide as a starter kit would be helpful - even if just a packet of information and a possible outline. Some individuals might not have the confidence to speak to students without that sort of assistance, he said.

Gary


GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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