Front Range Community College (FRCC) in Colorado is aggressively growing its Optics Technician Training  Program and recently showcased its progress before a national audience. Dr. Amanda Meier, Optics Technology Program Director, has ambitious goals. She wants to build the FRCC program and graduate a steady pipeline of technicians feeding the optics manufacturing workforce.

What better opportunity to highlight the program than the 2022 APOMA Tech Workshop featuring optics manufacturing employers from around the country?

APOMA (American Precision Optics Manufacturers’ Association) chose Boulder, Colorado as its recent conference location to highlight the vast optics and photonics community, including the growing academic base. 

The gathering kicked-off with an open house at FRCC’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) where industry leaders got to see first-hand how Dr. Meier and her staff are preparing students for careers in optics manufacturing. Attendees also learned why these community college-based programs need their continued support. 

“We need them as much as they need us,” Dr. Meier explained. “I wanted these national partners through APOMA to understand that what we’re building really depends on their industry support.”

The FRCC optics program is the hub of an AmeriCOM regional optics ecosystem, which brings together government, community, and industry partners.

Dr. Alexis Vogt, the AmeriCOM Executive Director of Workforce and Higher Education and the endowed chair of the Optical Systems Technology program at Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester, NY, worked with Dr. Meier to establish the FRCC program. “A strong academic partner is integral to the ecosystem’s success,” Dr. Vogt said. “With the right support, our academic partners can identify and train the next generation of technicians who can walk straight from the classroom to the shop floor with the skills they need to contribute right away.

Precision optics equipment provides hands-on training that prepares the students to graduate with marketable skills.

FRCC currently offers a one-year certificate program and a two-year Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) degree. Fourteen students enrolled in the fall 2022 semester—nearly doubling enrollees from the previous year. FRCC plans to continue the growth trend this upcoming fall. The college also hopes to continue strengthening relationships with industry partners, through events like the APOMA conference, to help grow its program.

APOMA brought nearly three dozen optics industry professionals to tour FRCC’s optics facility. “There were a handful of companies we’d spoken with over the last several months about equipment procurement.  So they were excited to see what we had set up,” Dr. Meier explained. She said she also got to speak with employers about the specific skills, experience, and expertise they seek from new employees so she can incorporate it in her curriculum. “I want to understand their demand and what it is they want their employees to really know,” she said.

Dr. Meier also established an Advisory Council with industry leaders drawn from the Colorado Photonics Industry Association (CPIA) who consult as she grows the program. She is also in the process of onboarding several new instructors. With APOMA highlighting FRCC during its biennial conference, Dr. Meier says there’s no telling how fast the program can grow. “I can’t wait to see where we are in five years,” she said.

You’ll find a full recap of the APOMA Colorado Tech Workshop here.