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Center for Advancing STEM Teaching, Learning and Evaluation (CASTLE)

Photonics and Optics Workforce Education Research (POWER) unites higher education, discipline-based education research, and workforce development in order to investigate core aspects of typical undergraduate STEM programs: scientific content, mathematics, and communication. This project is funded through a National Science Foundation Education & Human Resources Core Research (ECR) grant DGE-1432578.

In the Photonics Careers Project, we are studying the early careers of technicians, engineers, and researchers to better understand the transition from school to jobs. With perspectives drawn from employees and managers, PhD students and their supervisors, we are learning about key math, physics, technical and communication skills that are essential for success. We are doing foundational research that supports stronger bridges between school and work and between the industry advocates for workforce development and the academic communities focused on education research. The Photonics Careers Project will provide additional research-based clarity that informs national discussion and policy around STEM workforce preparation.

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Why do education research on the optics and photonics workforce in Rochester?

With the physical sciences, photonics is rich in basic research and technological applications in health and medicine, advanced manufacturing, defense and national security, energy, communications, and advanced manufacturing.

Rochester is home to over 30 companies and leading higher-education institutions. Rochester was the birthplace of the Optical Society of America, and remains a national hub in photonics. RIT is a leader in imaging science, remote sensing, and micro-optoelectronics, and solar energy. The University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics is the largest optics degree granting program in the Country. And Monroe Community College’s Optical Technology program is highly valued by the Rochester industry.

Is there a local skills gap?

  1. The rhetoric of “skills gaps” abounds in popular discussions about the relationship between higher education and the workforce. Our initial goal is to identify key skills needed for success in the workplace, providing feedback to local higher-ed, students seeking employment, and providing us a better understanding of upward mobility within the local photonics sector.
     
  2. We are going beyond many studies by including:
  • Multiple perspectives: employers and employees
  • Graduate school and industry
  • A range of levels of positions (Associates to PhD)

Diagram of skills needed in optics and photonics

Uniting higher education, discipline-based education research, and workforce development

Adapting research on improving students’ learning in order to study what makes creative, successful, and satisfied STEM workers.

Focus on core aspect of typical undergraduate STEM programs: scientific content, mathematics, and communication.

Diagram of core aspects of optics and photonicsToo many discussions of skills in the STEM workplace treat skills such as “advanced math” as a single broad concept. But education research reveals there is no generic skill such as “advanced math,” but rather there are an array of cognitive processes and contextual elements that go into using advanced math to solve scientific problems. This research will more accurately reveal how STEM skills are used in a day-to-day workplace setting, providing necessary information for education researchers wanting to connect their research more closely to the workplace.

Community

Optics and Photonics are part of the past, present, and future of Rochester, NY. The earliest years of Rochester photonics begin with the founding of Bausch and Lomb in Rochester in 1853. During the next hundred years, Bausch and Lomb, Kodak, and Xerox rose to international prominence and established Rochester as the optics hub of the US.  Currently, Rochester is home to over 60 small, medium, and large companies in photonics. Several higher education institutions have strong programs aligned with photonics careers, including the Monroe Community College Optical Technology programRIT Center for Imaging Science, and University of Rochester Institute of Optics. As education researchers, we are thankful for the strong community spirit that has welcomed our education research team, and is helping us better understand the complex transition from school to work. It is our hope and desire that this project would strengthen and benefit the local Rochester community, in addition to informing national discussions of STEM workforce development.

To learn more about Rochester Photonics, visit the Rochester Region Photonics Cluster http://www.rrpc-ny.org/.

To network and get involved in optics education outreach, join the Optical Society Rochester Section. Rochester is the birthplace of the Optical Society! http://osarochester.org/

Publications

Project updates (published by POWER)
One-page document: Rochester Photonics Workforce Development (NSF DGE-1432578) and National 21st Century Skills in STEM Jobs (NSF DGE-1561493)

Peer-reviewed publications
Zwickl, B. M., Olivera, J., Martin, K. N. and Winans, K., (2015). Preparing students for physics-intensive careers in optics and photonics. Proceedings of the 2015 Physics Education Research Conference, College Park, MD.

Related publications by project leaders
Martin, K. N., & Gaffney, A. L. H. (2016). Telling and showing: The intersection of visual communication content knowledge and pedagogical strategies in STEMVisual Communication Quarterly.

Martin, K. N. (2013). A Mixed Methods Approach for Analyzing the Imagery of a Novel Science. Visual Methodologies, 2(1).

Martin, K. N. & Murdoch-Kitt, K. M. (2013). A Visual World Demands Design Sense: Advocating for Visual Communication Across the CurriculumThe International Journal of Design Education.

People

Ben Zwickl
Ben Zwickl
Kelly Norris Martin
Kelly Norris Martin
Anne Emerson Leak
Anne Emerson Leak
Nate Cawley
Nate Cawley
Anita Raghuraman
Anita Raghuraman
Kirk Winans
Kirk Winans
Kingston Chen
Kingston Chen
Brandon Clark
Brandon Clark
Joshua Deslongchamps
Joshua Deslongchamps
Brianna Santangelo
Brianna Santangelo
Jarrett Vosburg
Jarrett Vosburg
Nicholas Young
Nicholas Young
Zackary Santos
Zackary Santos
Erik Reiter
Erik Reiter

Power News

POWER awarded NSF grant on 21st century skills (EMPOWER)

In April of 2016, POWER team leaders, Ben Zwickl and Kelly Norris Martin received an additional grant  from the NSF with Matt Hora from the University of Wisconsin, for research focused on 21st century skills, which include collaboration, communication skills, problem solving, and self-regulated learning.

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The research, now referred to as the EMPOWER STEM project will look at employers’ perception of these skills among new hires and the degree to which new employees display these skills. It will also look at the extent students are learning and practicing 21st century skills.

Congratulations, Kirk!

This is a collaborative effort between RIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will focus on STEM-related industries and educators in 2 and 4 year institutions in four major regions, Seattle, Raleigh, Denver and Houston. The goal is to develop further understanding of how industry defines and develops 21st century skills and how students and employees gain proficiency in those skills using focus groups, surveys, and studying how 21st century skills are taught.

Kirk Winans, one of the original POWER team members, has moved on to pursue his PhD in communication and rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The program focuses on researching and describing the effects of new technology mediated communication. At RIT this past August, Kirk successfully completed his M.S. in Communication & Media Technology and defended his thesis, which looked framing by journalists and the public perception of the term “skills gap.” The paper contributed to the mission of the POWER team to further understand issues surrounding the skills gap among those in transition from school to a technical job.

POWER Gets Media Attention

Thanks to Susan Gawlowicz’s nice writeup in RIT University News, we were able to spread the word about our project to local and national media outlets.

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Rochester Wins Federal Photonics Center

Full story by Democrat & Cronicle.

Zwickl invited speaker at DAMOP

Ben Zwickl was an invited speaker at the 46th Annual APS Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (DAMOP) conference was held June 8-12, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. His talk “Preparing students for research excellence in optics and photonics” was part of a special session on “Turning Physics Students into Physicists.”[ http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/DAMOP15/Session/N2]

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The education-focused session also brought in leading physics education researchers: Carl Wieman (Stanford), Heather Lewandowski (CU-Boulder/JILA), and David Jones (University of British Columbia). The session was co-sponsored by the APS Forum on Education with the hope of bringing more attention to education issues at a conference traditionally focused on scientific research. Judging by the 200+ attendees and the numerous questions, the session was a success.  Thank you, DAMOP organizers, for the opportunity to present our Photonics Careers Project research!

REU Students Join Power

The POWER group continues to expand. As a part of RIT’s Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER) summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), Jarrett Vosburg and Josh Deslongchamps become the latest members to join the team. Jarrett comes to the group from the Physics Department at SUNY Geneseo, while Josh arrives as a physics and math major from Texas State.

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Jarrett joins third-year Physics major, Javier Olivera, on a project researching problem solving among graduate-level research students in engineering and the physical sciences. Josh teams up with Kingston Chen, also a third-year physics major, studying symbolic and computational math use at the graduate-level. Although these projects have a workforce focus, they build on a foundation of ideas from physics education research (PER). Kingston becomes the latest RIT student on the team, uniting with Javier and recent RIT physics grad Michael Rinkus. These members are sure to have an impact as they study the links between undergraduate preparation and the photonics workforce.