Look up the many tributes to Jay Morgan Eastman upon his recent passing and you will see the words creative, generous, brilliant, humble, and entrepreneurial. And you will see this passage:

“His talents knew no limits;
he could build or repair anything.”

Jay Eastman envisioned — and saw to the building of — what is today the American Center for Optics Manufacturing. Our team honors his legacy every time a new optics technician realizes the range of their own talents and proudly enters the workforce in companies across the United States. Every year, more people are doing just that thanks to an idea Eastman sparked nearly a decade ago.

The Early Days

In 2013, Jay Eastman began working with the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster (RRPC) to establish a center for optics manufacturing. The first step was securing a New York State grant through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. The grant funded a big-ticket, shared-use piece of infrared metrology equipment for RRPC members. This led to an idea to expand efforts beyond the Rochester region and create a national consortium for optics manufacturing. 

During numerous trips to Washington D.C. over the next several years, Eastman worked with RRPC Executive Director Tom Battley and other stakeholders to promote the concept of a larger optics manufacturing center based in Rochester, NY. Battley called Eastman “our voice” for the concept of a laboratory setting to develop the manufacturing technology solutions for America’s defense precision optics manufacturing industry. He added it was Eastman who came up with the name “American Center for Optics Manufacturing.” 

The two also encouraged the New York delegation to establish a congressional optics and photonics Caucus. Today, the bi-partisan Congressional Caucus is co-chaired by Rep. Joe Morelle (D-NY) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), and includes 11 other members representing districts around the country.

Jay Eastman and Louise Slaughter
Jay Eastman meets with the late Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to promote optics manufacturing.

Eastman Takes on Workforce Challenge

The optics manufacturing industry’s innovation and capacity are largely dependent on a strong workforce of skilled optics technicians. It has been estimated that, for every optics engineer focused on manufacturing innovation, a minimum of 10 optics technicians are needed to bring the innovation to market. Unfortunately, thousands of optics and photonics jobs remain open nationwide, so Eastman took on a new challenge.

Prompted by Dr. Alexis Vogt, in her new position as head of the Optical Systems Technology program at Monroe Community College (MCC), Eastman sought to build a national training program to increase the supply of skilled optics technicians. In 2018, Eastman worked with Battley to host the AmeriCOM symposium in Rochester which highlighted the need for such a program. 

The event featured keynote speaker Adele Ratcliff, Director, Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program at United States Department of Defense. The symposium convened many other key stakeholders and speakers including Dr. Vogt and Jeff Ruckman, formerly with the Center for Optics Manufacturing and most recently retired from Lockheed Martin. Ruckman now serves as AmeriCOM President and CEO. 

From left to right, Tom Battley (AmeriCOM), Jay Eastman, and Mike Bechtold (OptiPro), celebrate the launch of AmeriCOM.

In cooperation with industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations — all groups that Eastman was an active and respected participant in — a plan was developed that organized the concept of an optics ecosystem. Anchored by a community college and supported by the regional optics industry cluster, regional school districts, and workforce development organizations, optics ecosystems would be formed, with the support of AmeriCOM, to develop a nationwide Precision Optics Technician training program. IBAS folded AmeriCOM into the National Imperative for Industrial Skills (NIIS) initiative and Eastman’s vision of a national training program formally came to life.

Eastman’s AmeriCOM Legacy

Jay Eastman served on AmeriCOM’s foundational board of directors until his passing. It is an understatement to say he will be missed. Yet, today, under the leadership of Dr. Alexis Vogt, Executive Director of Workforce & Higher Education and Tom Battley, Vice President of Government and Partnerships, AmeriCOM is building the Optics Technician workforce that Jay Eastman knew was needed. Training programs are now in place in Boulder, CO at Front Range Community College; northern New Jersey at Sussex County Community College; and Valencia College in Orlando, FL. Regions in New England, southern California, Texas, and other areas around the country are also being evaluated. 

There are many tributes to Jay Eastman online. A scientist, educator, and entrepreneur, he was also active in several nonprofit organizations including the National Women’s Hall of Fame in his native Seneca Falls, NY.

Perhaps, though, the best tribute to a person as generous of his time and talent as Jay is in the words of America’s newest group of Optics Technicians:

“As a person who dropped out of college the first time, I was so nervous going back to school. But because my teachers were so happy and excited about optics, it immediately pulled me in. … The opportunity is endless. I don’t see a ceiling unless I put one there myself. 
-Jimmie S., Optics Technician & Teaching Assistant

“I can use my skills in a way I never thought I could and become the powerful woman I’ve always known that I was.”
-Sarah H., Optics Inspector

“We’re now moving into seeing a movement of broad diversity. When we bring people in on tours [of our optics facility] there is going to be at least one other person where it’s going to be like, ‘Hey, that person looks like me! I could do this, too.’”
-JamieRose N., Technician