Responding to Post-Hurricane Maria Needs for Electronics and Photonics Technicians in Puerto Rico

The demand in Puerto Rico for highly-skilled technicians in the fiber-optics and photonic fields has increased following the collapse of all basic services following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2018. STEM technicians in these fields are critical for the reconstruction and maintenance of the island's communication infrastructure. This work includes rebuilding and modernizing the fiber-optic network that enables cell-phone and data transmission systems. It also includes support of optical-based processing and quality control systems used in the manufacturing, medical devices, security, metrology, and pharmaceutical industries. This project proposes to meet local workforce needs by increasing the number of graduates earning an Associate Degree in Photonics and Lasers. Through a partnership with local industries, the current program will be expanded to align the curriculum with local needs and to focus more specifically on optics and photonics. This focus will serve the most pressing local needs to support reconstruction and growth of the local optical fiber network. Finally, this curriculum will provide an education that will allow graduates to pursue opportunities in the continental US.

The project will build upon the one-year certificate program that was previously developed under a Department of Labor TAACCCT grant. Starting with this foundation, the project will identify, adopt, and adapt relevant educational materials from existing ATE-supported projects and Centers such as the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education and its affiliate centers and colleges. These materials will be re-oriented to meet local educational and community needs. Existing industry relationships will be leveraged to better understand current local needs, and a Business and Industry Leadership Team will be developed to provide the project with expert advice. Outreach to high-schools will be expanded through a recruiting and outreach program and annual summer workshops for science and math high-school teachers. Project goals include offering a more flexible, industry-validated degree program with embedded certificate options and educating students who are proficient in optics, lasers, fiber optics, electronics, and control. In addition, the project aims to ensure that students develop basic understandings of how business and entrepreneurial skills can be applied to the use of photonics and fiber optics in different industries. Proposed activities aim to excite high-school students and teachers about the power and applicability of light-based science and technology, and its current and potential impact on the local STEM economy. In addition, because the College serves many Hispanic students and women, the project has the potential to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in the technician workforce.

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