SCHUMER ANNOUNCES MAJOR PUSH FOR FEDERAL FUNDING TO MAKE MONROE COMMUNITY COLLEGE A TOP PHOTONICS TRAINING CENTER; SCHOOL AIMS TO MEET GROWING DEMAND FOR SKILLED WORKERS IN UPSTATE NEW YORK
Monroe Community College (MCC), The Only Community College In The Nation Offering An Optics and Photonics Associates Degree, Needs Federal Funds To Expand Facilities, Meet Regional Need For Trained Workers
Application for Over $500K from National Science Foundation (NSF) Is First Step Towards Making MCC the Northeast Regional Center for Optics and Photonics; Schumer Urges Feds To Approve Funds That Would Support New Equipment, Curriculum & Recruitment
Schumer to NSF: Build on MCC’s Proven Success in Optics and Photonics By Creating Critical Training Center in Rapidly Growing Field
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched his push to secure over $500,000 for Monroe Community College (MCC) through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advanced Technology Foundation’s Education program. Specifically, the funding would allow MCC to expand its optics and photonics degree programs, purchase new equipment, as well as develop a new curriculum and expand student outreach. Optics and photonics involves the science and application of light and are key to many industries including manufacturing, telecommunications and medicine. Schumer explained that MCC is currently the only community college in the U.S. with an optics and photonics associate's degree program, and is looking to become a major training center for this burgeoning field. Schumer said that MCC hopes to ultimately become the “Northeast Regional Center for Optics & Photonics,” but needs this federal funding to start to make that expansion possible.
“MCC is a proven leader in optics and photonics training, and we have an opportunity here to build on that success by creating a top-notch training center that will prepare Upstate New Yorkers for good-paying, middle-class jobs in this burgeoning field,” said Senator Schumer. “I’ll be fighting tooth and nail to secure this funding through the National Science Foundation so we can enable MCC to expand its optics and photonics degree programs, update its equipment, and put it on track to become the Northeast Regional Center for Optics & Photonics that it should be. This grant is the first step in creating a regional center that will ensure all of New York and the entire Northeast has the workforce it needs to attract, build and sustain a strong photonics industry.”
Dr. Alexis Vogt, Endowed Chair & Associate Professor of Optics at Monroe Community College said, “We are very appreciative of Senator Schumer’s support of our OPT IN! proposal. The intent of OPT IN! is to strengthen our region's optics and photonics workforce, and provide students with employment opportunities in regional high skill, high demand positions. Senator Schumer’s help will ensure that MCC has the necessary resources to support this growing industry.”
Schumer’s support for the NSF grant is the first step in MCC reaching that goal of becoming a center for photonics training and, eventually, middle-class job growth in this growing industry. Schumer explained that there are currently over 120 optics, photonics and imaging companies that employ over 24,000 people across the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Central New York regions. In the greater Rochester area alone, there are more jobs in the optics and photonics field than there are skilled individuals entering the workforce. Schumer said the workforce in the area is expected to continue expanding with the federal American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated (AIM) Photonics moving its headquarters to Rochester – which Schumer helped make a reality just last year. Employment in this field is expected to grow by 3.3 percent annually, which is why companies in the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster (RRPC) are in desperate need of skilled workers.
Schumer said this federal funding would help provide training for over 800 area high school and college students through the proposedOPT IN! program. Schumer said that OPT IN! would put Rochester area students in the best possible position to pursue higher education and compete in the job market. Not only would it allow high school students to earn college credits, Schumer argued that OPT IN! would make it easier for non-traditional students, such as veterans, to transfer from MCC to four-year universities and to complete critical student internships. The grant would also allow MCC to develop new and revised curriculum, and expand online education. Finally, Schumer explained that OPT IN! would broaden industry and community partnerships aimed at recruitment and education about optics and photonics as a career option.
The photonics and optics industry is central to the New York State economy and the Rochester area in particular. According to the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster (RRPC), these companies generate $3 billion in revenue per year, and support 1-in-14 households in Monroe County. In addition to the one-of-a-kind program at MCC, Rochester is home to the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Statewide, New York universities educate 60 percent of the nation’s optics Ph.Ds.
Schumer has long championed optics and photonics in the Rochester area. Earlier this year, Schumer announced that the NSF awarded a $2 million dollar grant to the University of Rochester’s photonics research program. These funds created new opportunities for AIM Photonics Center outreach in the Rochester community. The University of Rochester was able to create K-12 education materials to teach students about photonics and optics.
Previously, Schumer also helped the RRPC companies by fighting a then-proposed federal rule that would have restricted their business opportunities. In August 2015, the Department of Commerce and Department of State proposed a federal rule that would have continued restrictive limits on optics and photonics exports and effectively prevented American photonics and optics industry from selling certain non-security sensitive components to foreign countries. Thanks to Schumer’s push, the rule was revised and RRPC companies can now compete in the global photonics and optics market.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the National Science Foundation Director appears below:
Dear Director Cordova,
I am pleased to write in strong support of Monroe Community College (MCC) grant application to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program to enable MCC to expand its optics and photonics education and training program so that MCC can train more students to fill available high skill, high demand positions at local and regional employers. Currently MCC is the only college in the nation that offers an associate degree program in optics, and yet, in the Rochester region there are now more job openings for these positions than there are graduated students ready to fill these openings. Thus, MCC's proposal, named the Optics & Photonics Technology INnovation-OPT IN!, will expand MCC's work by first expanding and enriching its curriculum to train students for today's cutting-edge photonics fields, and secondly by linking with secondary schools, universities, and employers to create a seamless pipeline for more students to seek a career in photonics.
Currently more than 120 optics, photonics, and imaging companies employ over 24,000 people across the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Central New York regions. With an anticipated 3.3% annual employment growth and a workforce that is approaching retirement, the need for skilled optics technicians is outpacing the number of graduates who are prepared to fill positions. Beyond the specific workforce needs of these existing companies, demand for skilled photonics worker will grow further with the establishment in 2015 of the Rochester, NY headquartered federal American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics).
To grow the optics and photonics workforce, the proposed OPT IN!program will impact 850 high school and college students including underrepresented, non-traditional students like our growing veteran student population to help them advance their careers. MCC would expand dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, 2+2 and transfer linkages to four-year universities, student internships, and faculty professional development. Furthermore the program would develop new and revised curriculum, including online curriculum, at MCC’s Optical Systems Technology program to meet current industry standards. And by broadening industry and community partnerships it will foster recruitment, retention, and outreach activities to promote the awareness of optics and photonics as career option.
Again, I am pleased to write in support of this win-win proposal that aims to meet both the needs of a student population seeking the skills needed to gain a career in a high tech industry and for the needs of existing photonics businesses seeking new employees to fill current and future job openings. I appreciate your consideration of this proposal.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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