FORT PIERCE, Fla., Aug. 6, 2013 — Under a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Indian River State College (IRSC) will establish a regional center to meet a growing need for trained laser and fiber optics technicians.
Workforce projections have identified a national need for more than 1500 of these very specialized technicians, the college said, while the current output of US colleges is about 350 technicians a year. Laser and fiber optics (LFO) technicians repair and maintain equipment containing lasers or fiber optic sensors, including medical equipment such as MRI machines, Internet and telephone processing systems, and industrial equipment.
Dr. Chrys Panayiotou (at right, holding spray can), Indian River State College professor of electronics, conducts hands-on training with students in the Florida college's photonics lab. Courtesy of IRSC.
In partnership with 10 colleges and more than 253 companies, IRSC will lead the Lasers and Fiber Optics Regional Center to develop and deliver training in lasers and fiber optics throughout the Southeast. The college said the program will serve as a gateway to high-skill, high-wage employment in new industries after two years of technical training.
"There is an urgent need to ramp up the production of laser and fiber optics technicians to satisfy the high demand, maintain our world leadership, and create high-paying jobs. The Lasers and Fiber Optics Regional Center will serve as a model of best practices for training programs throughout the Southeast to create a pipeline of highly skilled technicians," said IRSC President Dr. Edwin R. Massey, who added that the college's partnership with industry leaders at the state and national level was an important factor in attaining the competitive grant.
Goals of the Lasers and Fiber Optics Regional Center, which will be based at the IRSC Brown Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the main campus in Fort Pierce, will include evaluation of the industry's training needs, creation of an industrial advisory board, identification of LFO specializations at each partner college, development of training programs, outreach to middle and high school STEM teachers, and recruitment of veterans and minorities for training.
IRSC has graduated 126 LFO technicians since 2005 and operates a photonics institute that provides training in technologies applicable to biomedicine, life sciences, remote sensing and information technology. For the past eight years, the college has been partnered with OP-TEC, the NSF/ATE National Center for Optics and Photonics Education, in the development of training modules in optical imaging and solar energy technology. IRSC is also collaborating with Corning Fiber Optical Systems for training in the latest fiber optic technologies.
For more information, visit: www.irsc.edu