Director’s Message — Celebrating Student Success: Stories

Over the last four years, the Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) and its partners have dedicated themselves to advancing the nanotechnology field through comprehensive educational programs. At its core, MNT-EC’s mission revolves around nurturing the next generation of nano professionals, focusing on students from community colleges. 

NOTE: Don’t miss the video at end of post!

Highlighting Student Achievements 

MNT-EC’s success is highlighted by its vibrant student programs and achievements.

  • Over 100 student interns in the Micro Nano Technology Collaborative Undergraduate Research Network (MNT-CURN)
  • Four Barry Goldwater Scholars
  • Winners of the American Association of Community Colleges Innovation Challenge
  • Winner best chemistry poster at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science 
  • Over 50 community college published authors in peer reviewed journals

MNT-CURN Research Students 

The MNT-CURN program showcases the real-world value and impact of student research internships. Through MNT-CURN, students engage in cutting-edge research, contributing valuable insights and innovations to nanotechnology. The program highlights MNT-EC’s commitment to providing practical, hands-on research experiences that prepare students for rewarding careers.

Goldwater Scholars 

Among its accolades, MNT-EC celebrates the achievements of students awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship is a testament to the high caliber of students MNT-EC nurtures, recognizing their potential to contribute significantly to mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering research. 

Take, for example, the story of four dedicated MNT-CURN students, Rachael Orkin, Celina Yu, Janet Teng, and Sophia Barber; plus a MNT-CURN student mentor Justice Robinson, who were awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. This scholarship is a nod to their outstanding potential in STEM fields, recognizing their innovative research and academic dedication. 

AACC Challenge Winners 

MNT-EC’s students have also distinguished themselves in the AACC Challenges, demonstrating their problem-solving prowess and innovative thinking. These victories highlight the students’ talents and the quality of education and mentorship provided by MNT-EC. It’s a recognition of how the center’s programs are increasingly aligned with the industry’s needs and challenges.


Cal Poly student and Pasadena City College alum Tan Nguyen recently garnered the Best Poster Presentation Award in the General Chemistry Category at the 2023 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference held in Portland, Oregon.

MNT-EC’s alums are emerging as nanotechnology leaders, mentoring new generations and enriching the field with their innovations. As we look forward, MNT-EC is committed to broadening its educational programs and research initiatives, aiming not only to keep pace with the rapid advancements in nanotechnology but also to foster industry growth and workforce development. 

We want to celebrate the achievements of our dozens of students across our many partner institutions, whose successes in initiatives like MNT-CURN, Goldwater Scholars, and various other programs underscore MNT-EC’s vital role in elevating nanotechnology education and setting new benchmarks for excellence. We also would like to invite our community college partners to participate in MNT-EC student initiatives to support your students. Ultimately, MNT-EC wants to provide community college students a chance to achieve outcomes that will support their advancement into MNT industry jobs and better prepare them for future education and workforce needs. Email me to learn more.

MNT-CURN student / mentor perspective

Director’s Message — Nano Education: Inspiring the Next Generation

Anthony Francis returned to New York for school after spending his childhood on the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia. See how collaborative projects, rich mentoring, and skillful networking helped Anthony secure a job in Mechatronics- a top 10 emergent technology.

In the United States, vocational training and apprenticeships are often undervalued compared to university education, even though they can lead to high-paying and in-demand careers. This trend is particularly evident when considering the evolving and critical field of nanotechnology education. 

A 2020 report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, titled ‘The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees,’ reveals a striking insight: many high-paying and in-demand careers in the U.S., including those in the burgeoning nanotechnology sector, do not necessarily require a bachelor’s degree. 

Yet, these alternative educational pathways, crucial for preparing the workforce for a nano-driven future, are frequently overlooked due to prevailing societal attitudes and a need for more awareness among students and their parents. As we look towards 2031, with an estimated 72 percent of jobs in the U.S. requiring post-secondary education and training, it becomes imperative to reevaluate and promote the role of specialized training, particularly in nanotechnology, to meet this demand. Between 2021 and 2031:

  • There will be 18.5 million job openings per year on average.
  • 12.5 million of these annualized openings will require at least some college education
  • Of these, a significant portion of these jobs will be accessible through associate degrees (13 percent), which often serve as a stepping stone to further education or directly into specialized careers. 

Emerging Trends in Nanotechnology Education

As the Principal Investigator of MNT-EC, I have witnessed firsthand the burgeoning significance of nano education and its pivotal role in shaping the future workforce. This post focuses on the idea that we need an increase in the number of nano students everywhere to be successful and provide for a new CHIPS Act workforce. 

We want community college to be more than only a degree; it is about crafting a visionary pathway for our students, illuminating the possibilities that nano presents. Educators, you are the architects of tomorrow, and through your dedication, we can inspire a new generation to explore this exciting frontier. You play a critical role in student recruitment. 

As I wrote last month (Link at the end of article), community colleges and universities currently offer a spectrum of nanotechnology programs. However, a palpable disconnect exists between academic curricula and the dynamic needs of the industry. We have used our MNT-EC Community of Practice as one way to open up deeper conversations. 

We must critically assess and bridge this gap as we delve into the landscape. It is essential to understand that while our efforts in education are commendable, they must evolve continuously to mirror the rapid advancements and specific demands of the semiconductor and nanotechnology sectors. 

Engaging the Next Generation

Today’s youth and career changers are at a crossroads, seeking paths that lead to fulfillment and innovation. Data from organizations like NIIT and SEMI shed light on their aspirations and the challenges they face (the most obvious one is that 4-year programs are more expensive than 2-year ones). 

As educators, we must understand and address these diverse needs, ensuring the nanotechnology field is an inviting and viable option for all, regardless of their background. 

Bridging the educational gap requires a nuanced understanding of the distinct paths for technicians and engineers. (I discuss this in more detail in the Director’s Message link below if you are interested. Please feel free to reach out by email to share your input and ideas with me.) 

Our curriculum must not only meet industry standards but also embrace the unique academic journeys of each role. By integrating practical skills and real-world applications, we can align our educational offerings more closely with the needs of the industry, ensuring that our students are not just learners but future innovators. We prepare them for some of the many options they might have with certificate programs, 2-year or 4-year degrees. 

The pedagogy of nanotechnology needs a makeover, to some degree, as much innovation as the field itself. Engaging teaching methods, augmented by technology and virtual labs, can cater to diverse learning styles and bring the microscopic world of nano into vivid reality. 

Collaborations with industry enrich the curriculum and provide students with invaluable insights and opportunities, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. Collaborations often equal Internships, but not always. 

There are undergraduate research programs and other creative ways students can gain experience from and with industry. The MNT-CURN program has dozens of student mentors and researchers within our national center. Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement (SCALE) at Purdue University is one of the preeminent U.S. programs for semiconductor workforce development in the defense sector. (Links below.) 

The nanotechnology industry is in a state of constant flux, and so the skills required to navigate it must evolve at the same pace. Identifying and nurturing these competencies is crucial. From critical thinking to technical expertise, we must prepare our students for today’s careers and tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities.

Commitment to Diversity and Community

In the realm of nano education, diversity and inclusion are not just ideals but necessities. The CHIPS Act requires thousands of workers, and we will find exceptional workers if we actively dismantle barriers and create learning environments where every student can thrive regardless of their background. We can cultivate a community representing the world it seeks to innovate.

Networking, mentorships, and peer support are the cornerstones of a robust learning community. We can enhance the educational experience by fostering these connections and providing students with the guidance and support they need to succeed in nano. 

Our role extends beyond instruction as we stand at the forefront of educational innovation. We are the catalysts for change, the mentors for the next generation of nano pioneers. It is time for us to embrace continuous improvement, to adapt and thrive in our methodologies, ensuring that our students are prepared for the future and ready to shape it. 

If any of this post sparks your interest, please get in touch and join the conversation. We welcome your ideas and contributions. 

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More about the post image:

Anthony Francis returned to New York for school after spending his childhood on the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia. See how collaborative projects, rich mentoring, and skillful networking helped Anthony secure a job in Mechatronics- a top 10 emergent technology.

The featured image is found on ATE Student Success Stories page which “highlights the struggles and triumphs of a diverse set of students in community and technical college settings. With support and guidance from ATE centers and projects, their lives and careers have been changed for the better. Each video documents a unique success story, but all of them have a common theme: technician training has the power to change lives.”

Image Credit: ATE Central and the Internet Scout Research Group

Director’s Message — Building Robust Collaboration At Community Colleges

ATE's MATEC Networks National Resource Center A technician participating in a MATEC Networks National Resource Center professional development course checks a critical dimension.

In the rapidly evolving field of nanotechnology, the concept of ‘collaborative innovation’ becomes increasingly significant. The National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program from the American Semiconductor Innovation Coalition stands as a testament to this, highlighting the indispensable power of community in this dynamic sector. 

As the Principal Investigator of MNT-EC, my engagements with leaders across government, academia, and industry have not only illuminated their crucial roles in education and workforce development but also mirrored the collaborative essence of the SEMI and ASA partnership.

These collective endeavors, spurred by the landmark CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, are pivotal in our shared mission to regain global leadership in semiconductor manufacturing and secure long-term economic competitiveness for the nation.

The Importance of Community 

The maxim, “it takes a village,” is essential (and exciting, frankly) as we invite young people and those new to the field to navigate this intricate landscape; the need for robust networking, effective mentorship, and collaborative efforts is vital. As a related aside, the MNT-EC actively mentors and guides the next generation, fostering the broader goal of creating an innovative nano culture.

This blog post ventures into these essential areas, offering insights and strategies to reinforce connections. By nurturing these relationships, we not only enhance collaboration but also unlock the potential for groundbreaking innovation and more effective solutions to our industry’s pressing challenges.

The Need for a Collaborative Approach – What’s Different?

In addressing the pressing challenge of a disconnect between educational institutions and industry needs, our initiative aligns with the goals of the ASIC work and SEMI-ASA partnership. This alignment is critical, especially considering the focus on revitalizing semiconductor research and manufacturing in the U.S. and the collaborative model set forth by SEMI and ASA.

Engineers AND Technicians

Let me share an example on the value of both engineers and technicians. We may forget or not realize how often they work together. They need each other. Such is the case for 2-year colleges and 4-year colleges, each usually training only one of these careers; we need each other. 

At Pasadena Community College, I have been involved in many transfer student success stories. My two-year students graduate and transfer to four-year schools, most often engineering programs. In some cases, students complete their two year degree or certificate and start a technician-level job immediately. But they later inform me of how their company is paying them to upskill, either with more certificates or transferring in later to a four-year college. 

The synergy between engineers and technicians is crucial. Engineers rely on the practical insights and expertise of technicians to realize their designs in the real world. Technicians, on the other hand, rely on the theoretical and design expertise of engineers to understand the broader context of their work and to implement solutions effectively. This collaboration is essential for innovation and efficiency in almost every field – from the military to complex fields like semiconductors. We need this synergy at the community college and four-year college levels.

Community colleges, pivotal in bridging the gap towards an engineering degree, must navigate the complexity of simultaneously preparing technicians for the workforce, as well as preparing transfer students for entrance into an engineering program at partner universities. Our approach advocates for more responsive communication and authentic partnerships within the micro nanotech education ecosystem.

This partnership would provide for a centralized partner, such as ASIC or the ASA to foster synergy among community colleges and K-12 educators, within the university system, while also providing support in connecting community colleges to industry partners, and government bodies. The partnership’s mission would be to align education with industry needs, particularly in the nanotechnology sector, and create a seamless pathway from education to employment. Current initiatives have striven to provide this space but have limited K-12 and community college partners, whose voices are essential if we are to successfully prepare our students for the workforce or enter university MNT education pathways.

Our effort within the MNT-EC National Center is to evolve current initiatives in synergy with the objectives set by the NAPMP and the SEMI-ASA partnership. By focusing on advanced semiconductor packaging and workforce development, we aim to complement the efforts made by our university partners, many who oversee initiatives driven by the CHIPS for America Workforce and Education Funds. Practical steps that can be supported by these efforts are:

  1. Facilitating Regular Interdisciplinary Workshops and Strategy Sessions: These sessions would bring together stakeholders to discuss challenges, share insights, and develop unified strategies for workforce development.
  2. Developing Collaborative Projects: Joint research and curriculum development projects would be a cornerstone of the partnership, providing practical experience to students and valuable insights to industry partners.
  3. Pooling Resources and Funding: The initiative would explore innovative funding models to support its efforts, reducing resource competition and maximizing impact.

Together, we can build a future where education aligns seamlessly with the industry’s needs, reflecting the SEMI-ASA partnership’s collaborative spirit and the strategic objectives of the NAPMP. 

We invite educators, industry professionals, and policymakers to join us in this endeavor, contributing to a workforce that is as diverse and innovative as the field of nanotechnology itself. 

Our collective effort is vital for maintaining the extraordinary benefits of providing an advanced micro nanotechnology education and ensuring economic and environmental sustainability in U.S. domestic manufacturing.

Community & Resource Links

American Semiconductor Academy Initiative | SEMI

Vision for NSTC — American Semiconductor Innovation Coalition (ASIC)

Dean’s note: The CHIPS Act: A call to action – Berkeley Engineering

American Semiconductor Academy (ASA) Initiative and SEMI Partner to Bolster Microelectronics Industry Talent Pool | SEMI

American Semiconductor Innovation Coalition (ASIC)

CHIPS Act includes new support for workforce training, providing opportunities beyond R&D for higher education | Berkeley

More about the post image

ATE’s MATEC Networks National Resource Center

A technician participating in a MATEC Networks National Resource Center professional development course checks a critical dimension.

Supported in part by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program, MATEC Networks’ National Resource Center provides venues for creating, sharing and promoting digital resources and faculty professional development for semiconductor manufacturing, automation, electronics and micro–nanotechnologies.
Credit: ATE Centers Impact 2016-2017 via the NSF Multimedia Gallery.