Endowed Chair & Professor of Optics, Monroe Community College; Executive Director of Workforce and Higher Education at AmeriCOM
Years in current role: 6 years at MCC
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I love being part of the optics industry–the industry responsible for remarkable innovations that improve our lives. Smartphones, cameras, virtual reality, night vision goggles, lasers, self-driving cars, and more. But we have a severe shortage of optics technicians, the people who manufacture and test the products. I lead the optics program at MCC, the only college in the world awarding associates degrees in precision optics, but in my role with AmeriCOM, I am establishing similar programs in colleges around the country. Nothing brings me greater pride than seeing my students find careers in the optics industry.
In addition to teaching, I enjoy cultivating community, business, and industry partnerships to anticipate workforce needs and promote regional and national economic vitality
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve dealt with over the past year?
Workforce development challenges abound in every industry, but within optics, the need is critical. There are simply not nearly enough technicians to fill the pipeline here in New York State, let alone across the nation.
AmeriCOM was formed to address this challenge. We’re establishing a network of optics ecosystems across the US with a community college at the hub, supported by optics companies and community-based organizations. This effort will be backed up with a national outreach campaign to raise awareness of optics as a career path and to recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds and demographic groups. So, spreading the word about optics manufacturing and filling the gap of technicians, while a challenge, is important work, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
What has been your organization’s biggest success over the past year?
In the past year our MCC Optical Systems Technology program reached record enrollment with over 100 students, 30% of whom are female and 28% of whom are students of color. We graduated our largest class in our 40-year history and all of our graduates found jobs in the optics industry. We installed more than $2M in advanced manufacturing equipment and expanded our facilities to include over 5,300 square feet of labs. My team rolled out a nationwide precision optics apprenticeship program and have trained optics technicians around the globe within the last year. In my Intro to Optics class this semester, I have students from Rochester, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, California, and Bahrain. And we now offer my Intro to Optics course in 16 area high schools.
What do you see as the biggest changes in the technology industry over the next year?
Our world is dominated by light-enabled technologies. Nothing travels faster than light. Because of light our devices are becoming faster, smaller, and more energy efficient. For example, we will have smart phones that only need to be charged once per month. The optics industry is inventing our future.
What community organizations do you support as a volunteer and why?
I am passionate about science, education, and youth in our community. I serve as a vice chair on the Rochester Museum & Science Center board of trustees, where my husband and I are also co-chairs of the RMSC capital campaign. Within the optics industry, I volunteer on the boards of NY Photonics and the American Precision Optics Manufacturers Association. Within our community, I volunteer with youth outreach efforts to build awareness of the optics industry, an industry that is a clear pathway to financial stability and success. On the athletic field, I volunteer as a 4th grade girls lacrosse coach, a K-2 boys lacrosse coach, and I am a member of the Brighton Boys Lacrosse Board. I hope the work I do inspires kids, particularly more girls, to pursue STEM-related—hopefully optics—careers.