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