Monroe Community College Awarded $4.4M by Naval Research Office

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Monroe Community College (MCC) has been awarded a $4.4 million grant by the Office of Naval Research for its Defense Engineering Education Program in Optics (DEEP OPS). The program will increase the national optics workforce through innovative training programs that prepare students for these high-demand jobs that support the Department of Defense.

The grant will support the efforts of the DEEP OPS program to expand enrollment in precision optics fields through innovative training initiatives. During its initial three-year period, the program will involve an estimated 3000 high school students, college students, apprentices, and incumbent workers and will provide professional development to high school teachers and MCC faculty. In addition, DEEP OPS will establish 150 apprenticeships and 30 industry sponsors to help build greater community awareness of these career opportunities.

“The grant allows MCC to strengthen our region’s optics workforce and help fulfill growing demands for skilled technicians in the defense critical field of applied optics,” said MCC President Anne M. Kress in a prepared statement. “With federal support, we will expand our programs and apprenticeship network to attract more students, especially those from underserved populations, to optics education and careers.”

Alexis Vogt, Ph.D., the endowed chair and associate professor of optics at MCC, was instrumental in securing the $4.4 million grant.
Monroe Community College. Courtesy of David Maiolo.
Monroe Community College. Courtesy of David Maiolo (

“This is truly an exciting opportunity to take the work we’ve been doing locally, expand upon it, strengthen it, and make it available nationwide,” she said.

Vogt told Photonics Media that the funding will help MCC develop an online curriculum and establish a nationwide apprenticeship program. The first nationally approved apprenticeship program for precision optics technicians was developed by Rochester-based Optimax, she said; other companies have the equipment and access to a master optician but lack access to formal instruction. That’s where MCC’s curricula — taught online — would come in.

The need for more attention to developing the nation’s optics workforce has been something the optics community has been talking about for years, noted Tom Battley, executive director of New York Photonics, the state’s industry cluster for optics, photonics, and imagining.

“For every optical engineer, you need several technicians to put things together and make things work. The place in the nation responsible for doing that is MCC,” Battley told Photonics Media, noting the vital role optics plays in a wide range of industries.

Battley lauded Vogt’s work developing the optics program at MCC, adding that the college almost closed its doors on the optics program 10 years ago.

Vogt, for one, has developed an even greater need for growing the ranks of optical technicians nationwide.

“When I worked at Bausch and Lomb I saw a need for optics technicians on a daily basis,” she said.

That appreciation grew even greater in the last few years as she’s fielded numerous calls from companies looking to hire graduates of her program.

MCC is the nation’s only community college awarding associate degrees in precision optics — but they do not yet produce enough precision optics graduates to meet the annual demand. This year 12 MCC graduates entered the optics industry to fill an annual demand of 574 technicians in the Finger Lakes area, leaving 98% of upstate New York skilled optics technician job openings unfilled.

For more insights on developing the next-generation optics workforce, see Vogt’s column from the August 2018 issue of Photonics Spectra.

Published: October 2019
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