MCC leading effort to address a growing national security concern

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Department of Defense relies on optical manufacturing for many important military uses, and now there is a growing concern over a shortage of optics technicians.

News10NBC’s Jenny Ly reports on how Rochester is leading the effort to address that, and it all starts with Monroe Community College.

Working with AmeriCOM, a Rochester-based workforce initiative aimed at connecting the industry with the education sector, the two are working together to replicate the curriculum in six regions across the country to produce hundreds of skilled optics technicians each year. Rochester also serves as a major hub for optics manufacturing and technology.

"Monroe Community College is the only college in the world awarding associate degrees in precision optics," said Alexis Vogt, Ph.D.Vogt is a professor and chair of optics at MCC.

Vogt spoke to nearly 250 students at an International Optifab 2021 Conference today in hopes of sparking an interest in them to pursue a career in the field.

"It just shows that the market is wide open for people to come in, explore, see if they like it. Even if not, optics can be applied to pretty much any future technology that we’re going to be innovating in the next couple of years," said Cooper White, a senior at Webster Thomas High School.

At least four high schools were in attendance, in addition to current MCC students.

Vogt says the optics program at MCC, which gives hands-on training for students wanting to become optics technicians, has grown significantly. Since taking over the program six years ago, the program went from just under 10 students to now over 100 students enrolled. This increasing number of students hoping to go into this field is a reflection of the growing demand for these jobs in the optics industry, especially as it pertains to the country’s national security

"When we think about laser guided missiles, we talk about the security of our nation and protecting ourselves – it is all optics enabled. The challenge and the very strong concern is that we don’t have enough in the workforce; we don’t have the optics technicians…the people who work with their hands to manufacture and test the optics, which therefore can compromise our national security," Vogt said.

Students not only learned about the importance the role of optics can play, but that it could also lead to landing a job in a critical industry.

"This is a great opportunity to find a summer job and see what the field is like," said Eric Huynh, a senior at Webster Thomas High School. "There is so much opportunity here. They were talking about how the market is in desperate need of optical technicians, so hearing that there was a shortage of them made me feel more secure about my future."