The history of precision optics manufacturing could not be properly written without a chapter on Keene, New Hampshire. It is widely considered the birthplace of diamond turning, and is now home to several optics manufacturing companies that use the lens-shaping process. But Keene’s story is just getting started. AmeriCOM has partnered with Keene State College (KSC), and industry stakeholders who know a thing or two about shaping lenses, to shape a new optics manufacturing ecosystem. Together, they are training and upskilling technicians to strengthen the optics workforce.

Jim Wing of Keene State College teaches a diamond turning course.

To address the critical demand for skilled labor in optics manufacturing, particularly in the diamond turning process, Keene State College is working with AmeriCOM to grow its optics program. AmeriCOM will purchase more than $1 million of equipment and advise the College as it embarks on expanding its optics lab. The school has already selected a site for the lab, which will be called the “Kingsbury Center for Diamond Turning Excellence,” and become a dedicated teaching lab for an expanded Optics & Precision Manufacturing program. 

Simultaneously, AmeriCOM will work with KSC to build its academic offering to attract new students to the optics industry while continuing to support technicians seeking to grow their skills. The college will establish multiple course offerings, from a one-week workshop to a one-year certificate. The opportunity to “upskill” through flexible options is particularly attractive to adult learners.

“Keene State College’s approach to advanced manufacturing education provides us with a tremendous opportunity to strengthen the optics workforce throughout New England and the nation,” said Dave Shelton, AmeriCOM President and CEO. “We look forward to our continued work with the college to provide pathways for people interested in a career in precision optics manufacturing, particularly in the specialized field of single-point diamond turning.”

Students have hands-on diamond turning training in the optics lab.

AmeriCOM supports community colleges in optics ecosystems around the country including Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester, NY; Front Range Community College (FRCC) in Longmont, CO; Sussex County Community College (SCCC) in Newton, NJ; and Valencia College in Orlando, FL. Keene State, part of the University System of New Hampshire, is the first four-year institution to join the effort to strengthen the precision optics workforce formally. 

“Keene State’s innovative approach to the design of our academic programs speaks to the strong collaboration we have with other partners in this optics ecosystem,” said Jim Kraly, Associate Dean of Academic Program Innovation at Keene State College.

“It’s an exciting time for the region,” said AmeriCOM board member Len Chaloux.

“This partnership will have a significant downstream impact. As we help Keene State College train more technicians and fill these highly specialized optics positions, our manufacturers can help feed innovation for all the industries supported by optics.”

The partnership is particularly gratifying for Chaloux who earned an Associate of Science, Manufacturing Process Technologies degree from Keene State College in 1974. He went on to launch Moore Nanotechnology Systems, which employs technicians skilled in the diamond-turning process. Nanotechnology is now based in Swanzey, NH, a town that neighbors Keene and Keene State. 

Keene State College later recognized Chaloux with an honorary Doctorate of Science for contributions in the field of precision manufacturing systems and processes, leadership, technical expertise, business acumen, and dedication to workforce development. “AmeriCOM’s investment in Keene State will help launch countless careers in optics and photonics, just as the college helped launch mine 50 years ago,” Chaloux said.