Rochester, New York, is known for a remarkable collaborations between academia and industry. At great example of this is the Optics Systems Technology program at Monroe Community College (MCC), a trailblazing initiative that has been shaping the landscape of optical technology education. Under the adept guidance of Dr. Alexis Spilman Vogt, this program has garnered national acclaim for its comprehensive curriculum and practical approach to training skilled and "job ready" optical technicians. Circle Optics has been working with esteemed faculty Mike Pomerantz, whose expertise bridges the gap between theory and practice.
One of the reasons Circle Optics is based in Rochester, New York is the optics ecosystem. We have immediate access to experts and students. Since 1963, Monroe Community College (MCC) has been instrumental in nurturing skilled optical technicians. The college’s contribution to the optics industry is not just local but nationally recognized, particularly through its Optics Systems Technology program. Spearheaded by Dr. Alexis Spilman Vogt, this program has become a cornerstone in optics education, shaping generations of professionals who drive the industry forward.
At the heart of this program’s success is Mike Pomerantz, a full-time faculty member whose expertise and vision are critical to its progress. His collaboration with Circle Optics is a testament to the program’s practical application and relevance to current industry needs.
“Mike is a pleasure to work with,” said Allen Krisiloff, Circle Optics’ CTO. “He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that he shares effectively with his students.”
This collaboration between MCC and Circle Optics exemplifies the dynamic relationship between education and industry. It’s a partnership that not only enhances the learning experience for students but also contributes to the development of innovative optical solutions in a real-world context. Mike Pomerantz’s role in this collaboration is pivotal, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, ensuring that the next generation of optical technicians is well-prepared to meet the challenges and demands of the industry.
Pomerantz was tasked to revolutionize the program including proposing equipment and resources to elevate our curriculum. His vision was to ensure that students are job ready with practical experience and a portfolio of fabrication upon graduation. We had a chance to learn more about the program and his teaching philosophy.
Pomerantz’ Technology Journey
My journey in optics, interestingly, went in reverse. Starting with Optimax Systems, Inc. I worked on the third OptiPro machine ever made. It was a time when Optimax had invested in late nineties technology. Initially, I managed well, but soon faced challenges while juggling work and school. Consequently, I stepped back, returning to conventional manufacturing – the traditional grind and shine methods. This proved invaluable. It laid the groundwork for understanding the fundamentals, which later made embracing advanced technology easier. It’s like beginning a climb halfway up the mountain, only to realize it’s better to start from the bottom.
Reflecting on it now, this foundational knowledge clarifies the complexity of current lab equipment. On the education front, I emphasize to students the importance of understanding basic principles. Jumping directly into high-precision, CNC-based technology without grasping the basics of materials, mechanics, and fabrication principles can be bewildering. I always advise them to have a contingency plan:
· What if things don’t go as expected?
· What alternatives do we have?
Without awareness of different methods, you end up hitting the same wall repeatedly.
It is a long journey of blending old artisan methods with cutting-edge technology and constantly exploring what’s next in equipment technology and design. It’s a comprehensive approach, though its true value often goes unnoticed until one actually steps into the workforce.
Art, craft, & science: success in optics is a three-pronged approach. You need to understand all aspects – not just rely on machinery. For instance, Pete Gears once mentioned during a capstone presentation, “Can I picture myself at the surface of the glass?” That’s a crucial perspective. You need to comprehend what happens at the micro-level to identify why something might not be working. This awareness is essential.Many people think life is linear, but my experience shows otherwise. It’s more about moving backward to leap forward. I started teaching by chance when I was offered a role at the U of R. Despite lacking a traditional teaching background, my practical experience in optics was my strength. This journey, from hands-on learning to educating others, encapsulates my entire philosophy: understanding the core to innovate and educate in the field of optics. Today, I in my role as a full-time faculty member, I teach conventional and advanced fabrication and metrology, MRF, diamond turning, and I oversee equipment and adjuncts.
POMERANTZ’ Teaching Philopophy
Initially, I had doubts about my ability to teach, given my background primarily involved writing training documents at Optimax amidst ISO certifications and other technicalities. However, my first few classes at U of R were eye-openers. I realized that the essence of training and teaching is fundamentally the same. Both involve guiding someone through a task, elucidating the reasons behind certain methods, and then confirming their understanding and capability by observing them perform the task.
This revelation was significant. It shifted my perspective on teaching. I understood that my experience in creating training documents and procedures at Optimax wasn’t just about compliance or process documentation. It was about imparting knowledge and skills – the very essence of teaching. This realization helped me embrace my role as an educator with more confidence and a deeper sense of purpose.
Teaching, I found, is not just about delivering content; it’s about connecting with students, understanding their perspectives, and guiding them through a journey of discovery and learning. It’s about making complex concepts accessible and relevant. This approach has been central to my teaching philosophy, blending practical know-how with a deep understanding of the underlying principles. It’s about preparing students not just for the academic tests but for the real-world challenges they will face in the optics and technology sectors.
Optical Systems Technology at Monroe Community College
The Optical Systems Technology Program at MCC is more than just an academic course; it’s a launchpad for the next generation of optics professionals. It’s a place where practical skills are honed, industry connections are made, and future trends are anticipated. The program’s evolution under Alexis Spilman Vogt’s leadership and the commitment to practical, hands-on learning make it a significant contributor to the field of optics and photonics.
In my role as a full-time faculty member, I teach conventional and advanced fabrication and metrology, MRF, diamond turning, and I oversee equipment and adjuncts.I was brought in to revolutionize the program, tasked with proposing equipment and resources to elevate our curriculum. My vision was to ensure that our students are familiar with the industry-standard equipment, boosting their confidence and employability.
The key to our program’s success is its practical approach. We don’t just teach students to fabricate optics; we prepare them for real-world applications. It’s crucial that they understand the ‘why’ behind their actions and learn from their mistakes. The program isn’t just about theory; it’s about hands-on experience that culminates in a capstone project. This practical exposure is captured in detailed reports, forming the first step in their professional portfolios.
Looking to the future, we’re excited to add new elements like thin-film coating and delve into emerging fields such as freeform optics, virtual/augmented reality, and photonics, particularly in response to the growing semiconductor market. These additions reflect the evolving nature of the industry and the need to stay ahead of technological advancements.
Our program has also forged strong connections with universities like University of Rochester, University of Arizona and Rochester Institute of Technology. These collaborations are vital in maintaining a comprehensive, up-to-date curriculum that aligns with industry needs.
Circle Optics collaborating at Monroe Community College
The way Circle Optics uses our lab is a testament to the program’s practical relevance. Over the past year, we have provided access to our optical alignment equipment and expertise, demonstrating the real-world application of our teachings and facilities. This collaboration is a perfect example of our commitment to bridging the gap between education and industry.
You CAn Listen to the Entire Interview
You can listen to the whole program on Circle Optics 360° Pulse Podcast anywhere you listen to your podcasts. Here are a few of our favorite channels: