With the support of the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education(ATE) program Penn State has developed a nation-wide partnership of research universities and community / technical colleges that is bringing meaningful core-skills nanotechnology workforce education to technical and community colleges across the United States. This partnership, the NSF National Nanotechnology Applications and Career Knowledge (NACK) Network, fosters (1) resource sharing among community colleges and research universities for nanotechnology workforce development, (2) the availability of course materials for web or in-class use, covering a core-set of industry recommended nanotechnology skills and (3) broad student preparation for careers in the wide spectrum of industries utilizing micro- or nanotechnology.
The Penn State nanotechnology workforce development programs began in 1998 as a Pennsylvania focused activity with the founding of the Pennsylvania Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology (NMT) Partnership with an initial funding of $2.1 M provided by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). PA DCED funding to-date for the PA NMT Partnership between Penn State and PA community colleges, colleges, and universities has totaled $ 18.1 M. Since the inception of the nationwide effort in 2008 supported by NSF, NACK Network research university-community college partnership hubs have been set-up and are functioning in Puerto Rico (University of Puerto Rico – Humacao), New York (Hudson Valley Community College / SUNY Albany), Indiana (Ivy Tech Community College / University of Notre Dame), Minnesota (Dakota County Technical College / University of Minnesota) , Texas (Northwest Vista College / University of Texas), Arizona (Central Arizona College / Arizona State University), and Washington (North Seattle Community College / University of Washington). Other network hubs are under development and these are in addition to the PA hub comprised of 30 Pennsylvania undergraduate institutions. To date approximately 900 (729 in PA) U.S. students have graduated from nanotechnology workforce development programs. Companies across the country are employing graduates (who are utilizing their acquired nanotechnology skill set) from NACK hubs. The NACK Network has created, maintains, and continuously updates free-of-charge course lecture and lab materials, web accessible equipment capability, and faculty development webinars as well as workshop curricula. To date 1244 educators and industry personnel from 35 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have attended NACK Network multi-day nanotechnology workshops held at PSU or other hub sites. The funding for this nation-wide effort to date is $13.7M from the NSF.
Major Success Stories on a Nano Level
CyOptics, Inc. (headquartered in Breinigsville, PA) was founded in 1999 with the vision of providing core optical technologies to enable bandwidth for high speed networks. CyOptics has added key technologies and products through a series of acquisitions and has grown rapidly and expanded its customer base to over 150 customers worldwide, achieving a compound annual sales growth rate of 36% from 2005 to 2011. CyOptics has heavily invested in and is committed to domestic product development and manufacturing. CyOptics relies heavily on PA NACK hub graduates to staff manufacturing operations. At present approximately 10% of the workforce in the Indium Phosphide fabrication facilities are program graduates. The combination of nano-scale theoretical as well as hands-on training that these employees have in their educational tool box enable them to “hit the ground running”, significantly reduce in-house training time, and enable them to be valuable long term contributors to bottom line company profitability.
Plextronics, Inc. (headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA) is an international technology company founded in 2002 that specializes in printed solar, lighting and other electronics., focusing on organic solar cell and OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) lighting.. The company's conductive ink process technology platform will enable the mass production of printed devices, such as low-cost organic solar cells and high-efficiency lighting which is particularly relevant in the worldwide search for renewable energy. PA NACK hub graduates currently make up over 10% of the growing Plextronics team. These employees bring skills and hands-on experience to Plextronics that the company would have been otherwise unable to find. Plextronics has found that the PA NACK Network hub education program provides a solid technical foundation that enables employees to grow into any number of career paths. At Plextronics, program graduates now hold positions ranging from entry level technicians to management.