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SPIE, OSA, IEEE Fund New Photonics Program for Students

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To support the development of future photonics professionals, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Photonics Society, the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE), and the Optical Society (OSA) have each offered $75,000 to fund tuition for the first 15 students of a new photonics technician program. The 15-month program, which covers three academic semesters and a summer internship, will be launched in summer 2020 at Stonehill College and Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, in collaboration with MIT’s Initiative for Knowledge and Innovation in Manufacturing, which leads the AIM Photonics Academy.

All three professional societies are acutely aware that their industry members have struggled to fill photonics technician jobs and have considered how to address this need. “For photonics technologies to continue to grow, we need skilled technicians who can bring engineers’ vision to life,” SPIE CEO Kent Rochford said.

The professional societies wanted to design a program that would enable students to graduate debt-free and find a good job in an innovative photonics company. They were impressed with the strength of Stonehill College and Bridgewater State University’s programs for optics and photonics. They also liked the schools’ ties to MIT and AIM Photonics.

“Burgeoning technologies such as integrated photonics require a robust workforce pipeline of well-trained, talented technicians,” Elizabeth Rogan, CEO of OSA, said. “To close the skills gap in the United States and remain competitive, we must invigorate technical education, expand hands-on training, and equip the next generation with specialized skills.”

Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito tours a lab at Bridgewater State University. Courtesy of MIT.
Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito tours a lab at Bridgewater State University. Courtesy of MIT.

The investments from OSA, SPIE, and IEEE Photonics follow a $3.8 million Massachusetts M2I2 award to Stonehill and Bridgewater State to build photonics labs, or LEAPs (Labs for Education and Application Prototypes). The Office of Naval Research funded the creation of the photonics technician program with a $1.8 million grant to MIT.

Peter Ubertaccio, dean of Stonehill’s May School of Arts and Sciences, said that the program will be open to community college and vocational high school students, as well as to workers seeking retraining, in addition to traditional college students.

All the courses that Stonehill and Bridgewater State develop for the program will be available to any instructor or school that wants to launch a similar program. All three professional societies hope the MIT/Stonehill College/Bridgewater State University program will allow not just 15 new technicians to enter the workforce, but thousands to pursue careers in photonics across the U.S. “The program will offer hands-on experience and know-how in everything you will need to gain well-paid positions in the fast-growing photon- and light-based economy,” Ed Deveney, professor of physics at Bridgewater State University, said. “We hope to grow this new program each year and help other schools offer similar opportunities to their students.”

Photonics Spectra
Jun 2020
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...
Research & TechnologyeducationAmericasphotonicsopticsSTEMphotonics technician trainingMITAim AcademyIEEESPIEOptical Societyautomationphotonics and optics traininglight-based economyautomated workforceEmploymentworforcelight speedRapidScan

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