HI-TEC Event Opens New Opportunities For Educators In Advanced Tech Education

Supported by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) program, the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) is a national conference on advanced technological education where secondary and postsecondary educators, counselors, industry professionals, trade organizations, and technicians can update their knowledge and skills. 

Each year, the HI-TEC conference pulls together hundreds of educators and researchers to share the latest methods to help students learn. Although this year’s event, like 2020, was virtual and asynchronous, it brought people and ideas together. 

The Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) contributed several recorded sessions for attendees, as well as downloadable materials to be used in classrooms and projects. Here is a list of them, with links and YouTube videos, where available. Don’t miss the two excellent Keynote talks, listed at the end of this post, with Stanley Black and Decker (yes, the toolmaker) and on Day 2, Jessica Gomez, Founder and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices.

Working Technicians Tell Their Stories

This session provided an opportunity for working technicians to share their experiences in attending community and technical college programs that prepare them for their positions. Technicians speak from a virtual setting and discuss their journey from pre-college to career. Topics include the role of math and science in their work; the key knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for success; what worked well or not so well in their technician education; what they wished they had learned in college; and barriers to success and strategies for overcoming them. The working technicians interviewed by Greg are recent graduates of ATE programs. A second video is here.

  • Greg Kepner, Co-PI, MNT-EC (Micro Nano Technology Education Center), Pasadena City College, Ottumwa, IA; 
  • Marilyn Barger, Director, Florida Advanced Technological Education Center, FloridaMakes, Tampa, FL; 
  • Shirley Dobbins, Professor, Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, FL

Journal of Micro Nano Technology Education (JMNT-Ed)

The ATE Micro Nano Technology Education Center has just launched the Journal of Micro Nano Technology Education (Powerpoint presentation download). This journal will serve as a communication platform for people interested in teaching the micro nano technology workforce. This includes two-year college faculty members, STEM instructors for middle school through graduate school, and scientists. The journal will publish articles on topics relevant to teaching and learning micro nano technologies at all levels, including manuscripts that demonstrate new educational micro nano activities and lab experiments that can be adopted in micro nano curriculum at all levels, especially undergraduate. 

  • Neda Habibi, Assistant Professor, Micro Nano Technology Education Center, Northwest Vista College, San Antonio, TX; 
  • Atilla Ozgur Cakmak, Assistant Teaching Professor, Nanotechnology Applications and Career Knowledge Resource Center, Center for Nanotechnology Education ad Utilization (CNEU), Engineering Science and Mechanics, College of Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, West University Park, PA; 
  • Peter Kazarinoff, Assistant Professor, The Micro Nano Technology Education Center, Portland Community College, Portland, OR

Micro Nano Fabrication Research Experience:  It’s About Technician Students!

The Micro Nano Technician Research Experience (PDF download) is provided by the Support Center for Microsystems Education (SCME) at the University of New Mexico under NSF Grant 1700678. This project gives technician students an opportunity to research, learn, problem solve, and apply microfabrication principles under the mentorship of subject matter experts and graduate students. An overview of the preparatory online methods and hands-on cleanroom experience is provided. Several students present their work and impressions of their experience. Students are encouraged to document their work through presentations, posters, and paper submissions to the Journal of Micro Nano Technology Education (JMNT-Ed). 

  • Matthias Pleil, Research Professor, Support Center for Microsystems Education (SCME), University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM; 
  • Jared Ashcroft, Professor of Chemistry, Micro Nano Technology Education Center, Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA. 
  • Student presenters are Sophia Barber, Alfonzo Meraz, and O’Neail Duglin, all from Pasadena City College.

nanoHUB’s Open-Access Cloud-Computing Resources for Nanomanufacturing, Nanobio, and Data Science

This presentation introduces educational resources in nanoHUB that faculty and students can use to learn about cloud manufacturing, simulating biological systems, and data science techniques. Established in 2002 and funded by the National Science Foundation, nanoHUB is the premiere place for computational nanotechnology research, education, and collaboration. nanoHUB hosts a rapidly growing collection of simulation programs for nanoscale phenomena that run in the cloud and are accessible through a web browser. In addition to simulation devices, nanoHUB provides online presentations, courses, teaching materials, and more. 

  • Tanya Faltens, Educational Content Creation Manager, MNT-EC, Network for Computational Nanotechnology, West Lafayette, IN

Simulation and Visualization Tools for Nanotechnology Curricula

Visualization and simulation (PDF download) promote students’ understanding of phenomena at nanoscale. This presentation explores the application of online visualization and simulation tools for teaching nanotechnology curricula. Utilization of online tools enhances students’ learning of complex concepts at nanoscale without acquiring expensive equipment. These tools include 26 RAIN (Remotely Accessible Instruments in Nanotechnology) nodes for accessing visualization instruments and 500+ simulation tools at nanoHUB; and CompuCell3D, a flexible modeling platform that allows simulations for biology, tissue engineering, and viruses such as COVID-19.  Simulation experiences at Penn State University with X-ray characterization by XPS and XRD are also presented. 

  • Ahmed Khan, Fulbright Specialist Scholar, Fulbright/World Learning Inc, Oak Brook, IL; 
  • Sala Qazi, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Utica, NY; 
  • Atilla Ozgur Cakmak, Professor, Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Penn State University, University Park, PA

The July 2021 event has over 80 sessions available on the HI-TEC On-Demand Sessions page on a wide range of topics: Advanced Manufacturing, Biotechnology, Cybersecurity, Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion, Employer Engagement, Energy And Environmental Technologies, Engineering Technologies, Future Of Work, Grant Funding, Information Technology, Internet Of Things, Learning, Evaluation, And Research, and Micro Nanotechnologies.

As mentioned above, these two keynote presentations are excellent:

Day 1: Mark Maybury, Chief Technology Officer, Stanley Black & Decker

Day 2: Jessica Gomez, Founder, President and CEO, Rogue Valley Microdevices

Here is the full list of titles and the On-Demand Session link above is where all the presentations and YouTube links are available.

  1. Hands-On Workshops in a Virtual World
  2. Scaling Advanced Manufacturing Technician Education to K-12
  3. SEMI Works Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Certification Model
  4. Smart Manufacturing Education and Training Modules
  5. Sustaining FLATE
  6. Amazing Team Effort to Create Career Pathways to the Bioscience and Healthcare Industries
  7. Biotech-Careers.org: A Model Career Website for the Skilled Technical Workforce
  8. Biotechnology Bench Beyond Mask: Building Communities
  9. InnovATEBIO.org: A Model for ATE National Center Websites and Education Databases
  10. Prescience for Distance: The Bioscience Technician Expansion Project
  11. Creation of an Apprenticeship Program in Cybersecurity Education with Industry
  12. Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management: Threats and Mitigation Strategies
  13. Cyberpreneurship
  14. Developing and Hosting Your Own Cybersecurity Competition
  15. Development of an Automotive Cybersecurity Course
  16. Engaging Students with Hands-On Cybersecurity Projects During COVID
  17. Final Year – Cyber Up! Digital Forensics and Incident Response
  18. Implementing a Virtual, Low-Cost Industrial Control Cybersecurity Training Environment
  19. Integrating Project-based Technical and Workplace Skills into Your Virtual Cybersecurity Curriculum
  20. Adapting to Create Meaningful Connections to Industry
  21. Best Practices for Building a Diverse Pipeline of Cloud-Ready Talent
  22. Creating Talent Pipelines for Targeted High-Tech Industries
  23. Eliminating Denial of Service: One College’s Approach to Increasing Minority Representation in Cyber
  24. Empowering Students to Recognize and Foster More Inclusive Workplaces
  25. Exploring Connections with Active Military and Veterans for Technology Programs
  26. Female Students’ Perceptions of Problem-Solving Through Peer Learning in Introductory Engineering
  27. Information and Strategies for Guiding Culturally Responsive Education
  28. Offering Advanced Software Training for Secondary School Students
  29. Strategies for Innovative K-12 Outreach
  30. Top Ten Tips for Teaching Student Veterans from the Classroom to Online
  31. Transforming the Optics Program at Monroe Community College into a National Model
  32. Common Barriers to Successfully Engaging Employers and How to Overcome Them
  33. SCADA Modularized Curriculum, Hands-On Labs, and Job Task Analysis for Renewable Energy
  34. Will Wide-Bandgap (WBG) Semiconductors Replace Silicon? Learn About This Cutting-Edge Technology
  35. Interdisciplinary Education of 3D Technologies
  36. Manufacturing PPE During a Pandemic: Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Workforce Readiness
  37. Microcredentials/Badging for Engineering Technology in Healthcare
  38. Promoting Your Center/Project to More Than 105,000 Industrial Professionals for Free
  39. Virtual Reality for MEMS Material in Second Life Using Blender and Solidworks
  40. Augmented and Virtual Reality and Workforce Training: Promises and Pitfalls
  41. Learning from Industry: The Future of Work for Technicians
  42. Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work: Implementing the Cross-Disciplinary STEM Core
  43. Adviser, Role Model, Friend? Giving Back by Becoming a Mentor-Fellow
  44. College Collaboration to Create a Grants Program and Portfolio
  45. Cultivating Employer-Led Innovation Strategies to Fuel Competitive NSF ATE Proposals
  46. Data-Informed NSF ATE Proposals: Exploring and Using the New ATE Survey Data Dashboard
  47. Increase Your Funding Success with No-Cost Mentoring for Prospective NSF ATE Grantees
  48. The Connected Coast Initiative
  49. Convergence Technology Students Present New Perspectives and Share Projects
  50. Enhancing Associate Degrees for IT Technicians
  51. The Evolution of Training for Supply Chain Automation Technicians
  52. Faculty-Advisor Relationship Impact on Student Decisions on Academic and Career Paths
  53. Leverage Employer-Led Skill Standards to Strengthen Your IT Program
  54. Time Sensitive Network Application in Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Systems
  55. From Hands-on to Virtual: Shifting the Training Demands for IoT and Sensors
  56. Internet of Things Education Project
  57. Internet of Things: Preparing the Future Technical Workforce
  58. The Wild World of Wireless in the 2020s: What Should We Teach?
  59. Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) Programs’ Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Preliminary Results
  60. Begin With the End in Mind: Formative Assessment and Evaluation in Professional Development
  61. Coding a Flexible Apprenticeship: Faculty Perspective and Support Relationships
  62. Creating Career Pathways and Learning Communities
  63. Cross Collaboration Between ATE Projects and Centers in Developing Interactive Student Activities
  64. Developing Photonics Education for Secondary Schools: UPDATE to Include Overcoming COVID
  65. Effective Remote Learning: Virtual PLC and Multi-Technology Simulations and Virtual Machines
  66. Engaging STEM Students During a Pandemic
  67. Global Virtual Exchange in Technical Courses
  68. MNT-EC’s Talking Technicians Podcast
  69. NC3-Festo National Certification Program: Lessons Learned
  70. Productivity Toolkit: Three Free Resources for Scheduling, Design, and Project Management
  71. Silver Linings: How COVID-19 Jump-Started Holistic Student and Employer Engagement
  72. Software Development Evaluation and Grading Strategies
  73. Transition From Traditional, Didactic Instructional Delivery to Competency-Based Education Modality
  74. Transitioning Orientation from Traditional to Digital: Approach, Practice, and Reflection
  75. Using Alternative Methods to Support Hands-on-Learning (labs)
  76. Using Virtual Citizen Science Activities to Introduce Students to Careers as Research Technicians
  77. Working Technicians Tell Their Stories
  78. Journal of Micro Nano Technology Education (JMNT-Ed)
  79. Micro Nano Fabrication Research Experience: It’s About Technician Students! (Related presentation from Undergraduate student research project is here.)
  80. nanoHUB’s Open-Access Cloud-Computing Resources for Nanomanufacturing, Nanobio, and Data Science
  81. Simulation and Visualization Tools for Nanotechnology Curricula

Virtual Reality Simulations Improve Advanced Nanotechnology Education

The Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools (CA2VES) recently announced that Dr. Paul Weber, Utah Valley University, received the 2021 Coordination Network Innovation Award.

Dr. Weber is the lead investigator on an NSF ATE grant: Integrating Environmentally Improved Photolithography Technology and Virtual Reality Games into Advanced Nanotechnology Education. He has developed VR simulations using a Scanning Electron Microscope and Photolithography that prepare students to operate equipment more effectively and safely. 

Recently, Dr. Weber provided a workshop on using VR in technical education programs. His dedication to providing nanotechnology students unique learning environments in the virtual world will lead to growth in the use of VR in technical education. Presentations and videos of his work at UVU are here:

Paul will receive a $500 prize and free registration at the 2021 HI-TEC Virtual Conference! He was nominated by Dr. Jared Ashcroft of Pasadena City College, principal investigator for the Micro Nano Technology Education Center (team bios). 

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are interested in attending the HI-TEC Virtual Conference, there is still time to register and attend the July 21 and July 22 event. The annual MNTeSIG runs right before HI-TEC and more info can be found here on the MNT-EC Calendar (also loaded with many other useful nanotechnology workshops and webinars). 

Pasadena City College Team Places First in National Community College Innovation Challenge

Led by AACC and NSF, the competition seeks to create STEM solutions to real-world challenges that benefit society

Pasadena City College placed first out of the 12 finalist teams that participated in the final phase of the Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC), an annual national competition, powered by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in partnership with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). CCIC seeks to advance student impact through STEM solutions to real-world challenges that foster the development of students’ innovation, research, and entrepreneurial skills. 

Teams for the CCIC consist of two to four students and a faculty or administrator mentor. The challenge requires teams to assess their innovation’s potential impact, identify its scientific and market feasibility and determine its societal relevance. 

The Pasadena City College team consists of the following students and faculty:

  • Dr. Jared Ashcroft (Mentor)
  • Kit Cheung
  • Kirk Dolar
  • Sophia Ibarguen
  • Richard Lu

Working together, oftentimes remotely due to COVID-19, the team was able to develop an innovative, effective means to use targeted photo immunotherapy against specific cancer cells while also combating the symbiotic relationship between cancer and bacteria that promotes cancer proliferation. . Their “NanoBio mAB: A Nanoparticle-Antibody Cancer Therapeutic” project abstract explains it well:

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death all over the world, with nearly ten million children and adults worldwide dying every year. By 2040, the number of new cancer cases per year is expected to rise to 29.5 million and the number of cancer-related deaths is expected to rise to 16.4 million. Antibody conjugated nanoparticles have a multitude of uses in cancer and infectious disease identification and treatment at the cellular level. Gold nanoparticles are commonly used in photothermal nano therapies due to their stable, non-toxic, and non-immunogenic nature. Silver nanoparticles have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal properties, and anticancer properties. The NanoBio mAB is a gold@silver nanoparticle hybrid that capitalizes on the ideal properties of both the gold and silver nanoparticles so that together they maximize efficacy in treating cancer. Conjugation to cell specific monoclonal antibodies (mABs) will provide an effective means for targeted photo immunotherapy to specific cancer cells while also combating the symbiotic relationship between cancer and bacteria that promotes cancer proliferation. Overall, the NanoBio mAB will revolutionize cancer therapies, providing a multifaceted approach in the treatment of cancer.”

On June 14, twelve finalist teams entered a week-long virtual innovation boot camp, learning from industry experts on how to understand the marketability of their innovation, how to communicate effectively about their work, and participated in mock interviews and elevator pitches to hone their message and presentation skills. Teams presented their innovations in a Student Innovation Showcase engaging with STEM leaders and Congressional stakeholders and led 5-minute pitch presentations in front of a panel of industry professionals for a cash prize. 

Started in 2015, CCIC was created to broaden community college participation in STEM and innovation to prepare students for meaningful employment in the high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economy. To learn more about CCIC, visit  www.aaccinnovationchallenge.com or follow the hashtag #CCIChallenge2021 for updates on Twitter. More information is also available on the NSF news page: NSF, AACC announce 2021 Community College Innovation Challenge winners.

NOTE: Some of these same students were part of a team that just submitted another research project: Undergraduate Researchers Share Tools To Help Students Understand Statistics.  May include this link because it is good to link internally between posts.

Undergraduate Researchers Share Tools To Help Students Understand Statistics

Statistic analysis is not always easy to understand, especially studying it remotely in the midst of a pandemic. Five undergraduate students at Pasadena City College designed and implemented a program to help their fellow students understand it better.

Initially, “Jupyter notebooks,” built by Project Jupyter, a non-profit, open-source project created in 2014, were to be introduced and used in chemistry lab courses. COVID-19 made it more difficult to use those lab notebooks so the project shifted, with a “new goal to provide students with the statistical analysis skills they would otherwise miss out on acquiring without the in-person lab component of their course. Statistical analysis is extremely important in all fields of STEM and a strong background in it truly helps students in their coursework,” undergraduate student and researcher Sophia Ibarguen said. 

Pasadena City College Chemistry professor, Dr. Jared Ashcroft, explained that these students were involved in creating and leading this research project Sophia Ibarguen, Janet Teng, Sophia Barber, Chloe Sharp, Alex Gonzalez, and Daisy Kim (four presented in the above video). As part of their efforts, they submitted their project to the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) that hosts an annual conference to celebrate and promote “undergraduate student achievement; provides models of exemplary research, scholarship, and creative activity; and helps to improve the state of undergraduate education.”

All of the students shared that, equally as important as presenting at a national conference, was the learning they gained from working together. 

“The best part of this project was the experience of learning how to work with fellow student researchers to create modules and assessments to help strengthen students’ understanding of different statistical analysis tools. The statistical analysis research project was the very first project I joined and it gave me a chance to learn how to work in a research group while also contributing independent work,” student and researcher Janet Teng said. 

Fellow student and researcher, Sophia Barber, shared a similar thought: “The connections I have made with the other members of the team, the invaluable support and mentorship I have received through working with Dr. Ashcroft, Dr. Chang, and Dr. Faltens, and the newfound passion for research I discovered while working on both this project and the hB-NPc project, which ultimately convinced me to pursue an MD/PhD. I am beyond grateful for being able to work on this project.”

As seen in the screenshots below, the students built methods and leveraged several platforms to make statistical analysis far more accessible for remote-learning but even for in-person classroom experiences as well. 

The research project used the following tools that educators and students can visit and use:

The initial motivation of helping their fellow students at Pasadena City College understand how to properly conduct statistical analysis was rewarded by strong results. Sophia Ibarguen summarized the project perfectly: 

“I think the best part of the project for me was the data analysis once each cohort of students had completed the modules. Seeing how the students’ scores increased each time and how their survey responses concerning statistical analysis also spoke more favorably of the subject provided me with instant gratification. Seeing how much our work helped our peers made all those months of early mornings and late nights completely worth it because it meant our work mattered, that we made even the smallest difference. That realization alone was priceless for me.” 

Technical Degree Jobs – Learn From Real Technicians On The Talking Technicians Podcast

Talking Technicians Podcast
Real Technicians with Real Jobs – Hear their personal stories.

Technical degrees often lead to better paying jobs. “Will this help me get a good job?” is often one of the first questions a student has about a technical degree or certificate program.

The Talking Technicians podcast with Peter Kazarinoff from Portland Community College supported by the Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) is setting out to answer that question by asking the people working in the field: Who they are, what they do, and how they got there. Perhaps like you, they also wondered about which technical degree path to pursue. 

Every month, Peter talks to real technicians working in a variety of technical industries. Many industries have entry-level jobs that do not require a 4-year college degree, or any degree, but most trade and technical jobs want their employees to have a basic understanding of technical and safety concepts, at minimum. A two-year technical degree offered at most community colleges around the nation is

Peter actively teaches technicians and engineers at Portland Community College. In each episode, roughly 15 minutes in length, you will meet a working technician and hear their story. In addition to the uplifting personal stories from these technicians, at the end of each episode,  Peter shares steps you can take to become a technician, too. 

You can listen directly here on the MNT-EC Talking Technicians page or find it on Apple or Google podcasts, or the Talking Technicians YouTube Playlist (here are a few listed in order): 

Stay tuned and Subscribe for more stories and details about how technicians around the USA have pursued a technical degree or certificate and found a great job that they love. 

The MNT-EC, including the Talking Technicians podcast, is funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Pasadena City College Builds National Approach To Micro Nano Technology Education

In 2020, Pasadena City College (PCC) received a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation ​Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program to develop new approaches to teaching students about micro nano technology. 

The new “Micro-Nano Technology Education Center” (MNT-EC) will be a collaborative center that brings together various educational institutions (30 and counting) and private corporations in micro-nano technology fields. PCC Natural Sciences professor Jared Ashcroft will lead the effort, drawing together researchers, scientists, educators, and industry professionals from a growing network of schools and industry.

According to a recent PCC article by Alexander Boekelheide, PCC to lead $7 million effort to expand nanotechnology education, in an interview with Dr. Ashcroft: “Community colleges have to evolve in what they teach. We need to converge these different technologies so we can prepare students for future jobs, not the jobs in the field of five years ago. Industry and research are driving nanotechnology forward and it’s time for us to have our teaching be a part of that,” he said.

From the NSF grant award, there are four major objectives (you can also read more on the About page) for the new Micro Nano Technology Education Center. Dr. Ashcroft clarified how the Center is continuing to learn and adapt in comments below.

  1. Develop coordinated national approach to advance Micro- Nano Education.
  2. Deliver professional development to enhance knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  3. Conduct strategic outreach, recruitment, and retention of traditional and under-represented faculty and students.
  4. Create a deep industry/education alliance that supports student success.

Develop coordinated national approach to advance Micro- Nano Education

There are currently several advanced technological education programs in nano. It is very challenging for a community college or K-12 school to know which programs curriculum and activities are optimal. The MNT-EC will bring the current curriculum and activities to one site and delineate appropriate grade levels for each activity. If we can get a consistent approach to MNT education that is vetted and organized to grade level so it is easier for educators to implement in the classroom it will be a success.

Deliver professional development to enhance knowledge, skills, and abilities

Success in this area will be if we can find 10 partner sites that utilize the professional development in their classrooms and to have 5 actively engaged community college MNT-based technical education programs that are each awarding a minimum of ten certificates.

There are several current professional development opportunities in MNT through all the partners. The MNT-EC goal is to support these professional development activities, but more importantly once the workshops are over to continually engage the participants to keep the interest in nano tech education implementation in their coursework or programs going. 

Conduct strategic outreach, recruitment, and retention of traditional and under-represented faculty and students

The goal of MNT-EC is to provide opportunities to all students in micro and nano technical education. The majority of students, especially at community colleges are unaware of the opportunities in technical education and do not have any idea what a nano-based career can look like.

In addition, we want to increase awareness and participation in MNT-based academic and career paths with a focus on recruitment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). We will utilize undergraduate research opportunities as a means to provide hands-on experiences in micro and nanotechnology, which has been shown to increase success in all students, but especially with underrepresented students.

Create a deep industry/education alliance that supports student success

In terms of student awareness and success, the Center’s emphasis is on showcasing the jobs available in microtechnology and nanotechnology. There are several major organizations or corporations looking for technicians: Intel, Micron, national government labs, such as, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, among others. If we’re honest and practical, when a student evaluates a degree path, they are ultimately asking — Can I get a job in this field? If the answer is not obvious and the path clear, they are not likely to even take the first step. Colleges with micro and nano programs need to change that. 

Currently we are organizing a Business Industry Leadership Team. Success will be that industry partners actively engage with the MNT-EC and provide insight on what technologies we should be preparing our students so they are ready when entering the micro nanotechnology workforce.

The MNT-EC, in less than a year, has started collaborations with the following institutions and organizations. You can visit the MNT Partner Page, or feel free to peruse the list shared below. Partners are a group of educators and professionals who contribute to MNT-EC’s products and services. They provide vetted content, professional development opportunities, and expert mentoring services through MNT-EC.            

Academic Partners

ATE Partners

Industry Partners    


Photonics Education Seeing Career Growth For Graduates

As part of the Micro Nano Technology Education Center Summer Seminar Series, Greg Kepner and Frank Reed presented on the photonics field and job opportunities in this exciting career path. 

In this comprehensive presentation, Kepner and Reed shared from the basic “What is photonics?” (definition shared below) to “What do technicians do and where do they work” as well as some excellent resources if you are interested in working in this field (or simply learning about it).

What is Photonics?

“The science and technology of generating (lasers), manipulating (optics), and detecting (electro-optics) particles of light (photons).”

The presentation included the following areas:

  • What are some photonics applications?
  • What about photonics education?
  • What do photonics technicians do? 
  • Where do photonics technicians work?
  • How can I attend a photonics workshop?
  • How do lasers work?
  • Are lasers safe?
  • Where can I find more photonics resources?

According to O’NET at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a “Photonics Technician – Build, install, test, or maintain optical or fiber optic equipment such as lasers, lenses, or mirrors using spectrometers, interferometers, or related equipment.” 2019 median wages were $62,990. 

Kepner highlighted that the Indian Hills Community College (IHCC) started the Midwest Photonics Education Center (MPEC) in 2014 as an NSF ATE Regional Center, however, the IHCC Laser & Optics Technology program began in the mid-1980s. IHCC has a list of 140 companies that have hired its photonics graduates. 

The IHCC Laser & Optics Technology program graduates have averaged over 95 percent job placement consistently for the past decade. According to Instructor Michael Shay, nine companies are already scheduled to participate in the IHCC annual “Presentation and Interview Week” in March.

From the larger list of 140 companies, 26 companies (image below) have hired graduates in the last five years alone. Many of the hiring companies are 100 employees or less, but quite a few are big names that students and job candidates will recognize: Texas Instruments, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Boston Scientific, and Medtronic, to call out just a few. 

According to Kepner, who recently attended the Congressional Optics & Photonics Caucus, it was reported that “industry growth was continuing and politicians are starting to understand the importance of photonics as an enabling technology to defense, security, manufacturing, communications, and many other industries.” 

Photonics Job Opportunities for IHCC graduates in Laser and Optics. Placement from 2015-2020
Photonics Technology Education Leads to Jobs

Photonics Education

A 2012 national survey titled “Industry Demand for Two-Year College Graduates in Optics and Photonics Technology,” showed the Midwest region’s 500 photonics-driven companies project a need for an additional 939 technicians over the next five years. That need has only grown for the 2020s. Some of the Photonics job hot spots are in New York, Florida, California, and Montana.

If you want to learn more about the photonics industry and career path, technologies that include optics and electronics (lasers, fiber-optics, electro-optics), visit the IHCC Laser & Optics Technology program page.

Technical Note — Sample of reported job titles in the field of Photonics: Fiber Optics Technician, Laser Technician, Optomechanical Technician, Photonic Laboratory Technician (Photonic Lab Tech), and Photonics Technician.

This summer on July 28-29, MNT-EC will offer a photonics professional development opportunity with an introductory Fundamentals of Photonics workshop that includes the theory of light and lasers along with practical hands-on laboratory activities.

Stay tuned to this page for upcoming professional development workshops and other faculty opportunities. Educators can also use the Micro Nano Technology calendar to keep up with a wide range of professional development and curriculum.

Mentor-Connect Guides Faculty Toward Successful Submission of NSF ATE Proposals

Leading Fortune 500 companies have improved employee retention by as much as 75 percent through mentoring initiatives. A recent MentorcliQ (a mentoring software company) study found that becoming more involved in mentoring as mentors or sponsors, leads to a culture of learning, development, and camaraderie. 

Mentor-Connect (M-C) is a free service to help two-year college STEM faculty prepare competitive grant proposals for submission to the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Program.

Since its 2012 launch, 141 ATE proposals have been submitted from 164 colleges that have participated in the first eight cohorts (86% submission rate). Overall,160 two-year technical colleges have been served by the Mentor-Connect New-to-ATE project with 41 states reached as well as Puerto Rico and American Samoa (US territories) with Cohorts 1 through 9.

During the MNT-EC seminar series, Mel Cossette, Greg Kepner, and Elaine Craft discussed what Mentor-Connect is, how they are working with the Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) and how they guide faculty from two year institutions to write an NSF proposal for the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) directorate that focuses on technician education. 

According to the M-C website section, Get A Mentor, Mentor-Connect offers three types of no-cost mentoring to community colleges seeking to improve technician and related STEM education through projects funded by NSF ATE. Online applications are available on site.

  • New-to-ATE (Deadline: October 8, 2021). This mentor program helps colleges develop grant proposals for the Small Grants for Institutions New to ATE track. (Colleges are considered new to ATE if they have not received ATE funding in the past seven years.)
  • Second-Chance (Deadline: April 1, 2021). Mentor-Connect invites colleges interested in reworking and resubmitting New-to-ATE proposals that were initially declined when submitted to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to apply for Second-Chance Mentoring. Eligible colleges include:
    • (1) those whose first proposal to the Small Grants for Institutions New to ATE was declined, and
    • (2) those who successfully completed a Small Grants for Institutions New to ATE project and subsequently submitted a proposal for a full ATE Project that was declined.
  • Moving-Up (Deadline: April 1, 2021) is focused on helping colleges that received funding in the Small Grants for Institutions New to ATE track to develop larger ATE Project proposals. 

In the Find A Grant Resource section, prospective grant recipients will find a range of excellent guides to help them navigate the world of NSF grant funding. In the Resource Library, there is a recent list of downloadable videos in their Coffee Break Webinar Series that are worth a look. Some of the videos are also found on the Mentor-Connect YouTube channel which is packed with information and tutorials about how to get started with NSF ATE grants.

Like the best Fortune 500 companies found in their mentoring programs, Mentor-Connect also has been instrumental in building mentoring culture and success in community college faculty. The trends are clear: Mentoring programs keep people engaged, productive, and resilient. 

The Mentor-Connect project is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program and formed out of Florence-Darlington Technical College’s South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence (SC ATE): National Resource Center in Florence, SC. DUE #1501183 & #1840856 Mentor-Connect: A Leadership Development and Outreach Initiative for ATE.

What Is Nanotechnology?

A Quick Definition of Nanotechnology and Nanoscience

Nanos is the Greek term for Dwarf. Walt Disney could have given the nanotechnology industry a kickstart back in 1937 if he only titled his classic movie Snow White and the Seven Nanos instead of Seven Dwarfs. Maybe not, but nano is definitely smaller than any dwarf you have ever seen on the big screen.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)scientist uses a Compound Semiconductor Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) System to grow semiconductor samples in the Semiconductor Growth lab at the Solar Energy Research Facility at NREL. MBE systems are considered a fundamental tool for developing nanotechnologies. Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash.

Nanotechnology is widely considered to be the field of applied science and technology where the control of matter on the molecular level occurs, smaller than 1 micrometer, but usually 1 to 100 nanometers (see How Big Is A Nanometer below), and the creation of devices within that size range. Although natural nanomaterials are all around us, nanotechnology is typically focused on and composed of human-made nanomaterials that occur from objects or processes created by people. 

Micro Nano Tech Education Center (MNT-EC) Center Manager, Billie Copley, simplifies the above definition: “Nanoscience,  generally speaking, is the observation, study and manipulation of matter on the atomic and molecular level. Nanotechnology uses the data gathered by nanoscience to improve or develop new materials and techniques.”

It is a multidisciplinary field, drawing from diverse areas of science and technology from applied physics to materials science; colloidal science to mechanical and electrical engineering, to name a few. These scientific areas are also leveraging a new generation of analytical tools such as the atomic force microscope (AFM), and the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to take nanotechnology even further. 

How Big Is A Nanometer, Actually?

Most sites try to define nanotechnology by sharing sizes that our brains can barely imagine. Nano means one-billionth — a billionth of one meter is one nanometer. We cannot see nano without the aid of a powerful microscope, like a super powerful microscope. The Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) website launched last week with a post about Biomedical Research that our colleague, Dr. Neda Habibi, at Northwest Vista College, is providing students with research opportunities using microscopes that are powerful like the Hubble Space Telescope, if you could flip the Hubble into atomic mode.

To help people with size, nanotechnology sites often state that a human hair is 80,000 nm wide. Nanotechnology lives and works in sizes below 100 nm. To put that human hair scale in another context, “the comparative size of a nanometer to a meter is the same as that of a marble to the size of the earth” according to National Geographic

The magazine offers an encyclopedia, of sorts, and within it is the Nanotechnology section for grades 9 through 12-plus. They share some additional concepts that probably will not help you visualize how small a nanometer is, but may help you mentally wrestle with just how tiny it is:

  • Your fingernails grow about one nanometer every second.
  • When a seagull lands on an aircraft carrier, it sinks about one nanometer.
  • A man’s beard grows about a nanometer between the time he picks up a razor and lifts it to his face.

One of the best explorations attempting to define nanotechnology comes from WIRED magazine’s YouTube channel on October 8, 2020 (see below). They asked an expert nanotechnology researcher at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center (IBM Research), Dr. George S. Tulevski, to explain the concept of nanotechnology to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert. In this 24-minute video, viewers receive far more than definitions, but listen in on increasingly detailed and in-depth conversations of what nanotechnology is and can be in the future. 


Stay tuned as we will continue to update and provide resources at this “What Is Nanotechnology?” post.

Texas Undergraduate Students Gain Advanced Biomedical Research Experience

Most people have heard of the Hubble Space Telescope. Now flip that idea and direct it at the atomic level. In a new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, principal investigator, Dr. Neda Habibi and students from Northwest Vista College in collaboration with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) will have an opportunity to use advanced and powerful electron microscopes for undergraduate research projects.

Transmission electron microscope at Sandia National Laboratory’s (CINT) Center for Integrated Nanotechnology. Photographer Donica Payne. Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

The Biomedical Engineering (BME) project involves working with biomedical devices, cell culturing and microscopy techniques. The research projects will involve creating new types of anti-cancer drugs and tissue scaffolds for combating cancer and improving tissue regeneration. The set of techniques skills that students will receive will be cell culturing, electrospinning, working with advanced nano and micro characterization techniques such as FESEM, and TEM (see “Getting Technical” below).

Extending the success of an existing NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant, the Alamo Institute for Materials Technology (AIM-TEC) at Northwest Vista College will receive additional funding to continue building workforce opportunities for Alamo college district students.

In the original NSF ATE grant, Northwest Vista College professors created AIM-TEC to create a self-sustaining and replicable regional workforce model that leverages local resources and partnerships to address the critical need by industry for quality technician education and training in advanced materials technology. This new BME project will place students in research projects at two main locations, Biomedical Engineering Department at UTSA and Tower Semiconductor.

The results of the research project will help students to locate in a workplace research facility or transition and continue with higher education into BME undergraduate programs. The project aims to recruit students from minority, unrepresented and female students to participate in the research experience. Thanks to participation within the Micro Nano Technology Education Center and mentorship from MNT-EC Center Director, Dr. Jared Ashcroft, this new project is giving students around the USA more opportunities to explore the micro nano technology industry.

Getting Technical:
FESEM: Field emission scanning electron microscopy can magnify at ranges of small (10x) up to massive (300,000x), with incredible depth of field. FESEM is a more advanced SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) that uses a focused beam of electrons to create an image. As the electrons interact, they produce a signal rich with information about the surface (topography) and makeup or composition of that sample. FESEM microscopes are capable of scanning down to 1.5 nanometers (nm), with less distortion and better resolution.

TEM: Transmission electron microscopy is another analysis technique using an electron beam to transmit through a specimen to form an image. Similar to FESEM, this method also captures how electrons interact, magnify it onto a screen, film, or increasingly with image sensors.

Hat tip to Vac Coat Ltd for its explanation of FE-SEM as well as to various Wikipedia pages across the history of microscopes.