Distance Education and Learning in Vacuum Technology for Employment Readiness (DELIVER)
Almost all modern technologies that benefit consumers, industry, and the national defense depend on vacuum and thin film technology. Examples of engineered systems that depend on vacuum technology include the touchscreens on phones, coatings on medical devices, and water purification components. Although a significant and "enabling" technology in its applications, it is also often hidden. Vacuum systems, and the technicians who maintain them, remain virtually unknown outside of the industry. As the existing workforce ages and the number of businesses relying on vacuum technology increases, our nation faces a critical shortage of technicians to maintain the complex vacuum systems that we are all dependent on. This project will respond to this challenge by developing a "focused track" credential to educate vacuum technicians to meet workforce needs. This Vacuum Technology Certificate will be offered by Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, an accredited institution that is part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The Vacuum Technology Certificate can be completed in one year and will serve the following audiences: (a) entry-level workers already in the field who want to advance their careers, (b) workers in related industries (automotive, metallurgy) who need to retrain, (c) veterans with related experience moving into a new career, and (d) high school students who seek work experience prior to continuing their education.
To ensure that the Vacuum Technology Certificate is broadly accessible, the project team will use a blend of distance learning technologies and disseminate the program widely. Key activities of the project include: (a) curricular development for both face-to-face and online course delivery, (b) hands-on laboratory development, (c) professional development for educators, and (d) dissemination. More specifically, three new courses will be developed: (1) an e-learning course for anyone to explore basic vacuum technology concepts and careers, (2) an online course for current students to earn credit while learning chemistry, math, and physics concepts used every day by technicians, and (3) an advanced course in vacuum and thin film technology for the certificate program. The three-course core curriculum will be offered on campus and via telepresence using high speed audiovisual connection linking students and instructors in real time. The use of trainer systems will also enable students to gain hands-on practice with the processes and equipment used on job sites. Lastly, with strong dissemination, a network of instructors with industry experience will be established and be supported to become teachers to the next generation of vacuum technicians.