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Partnerships & Growth in Optics Technology at SCCC Expands

1/3/2024 12:00:00 PM

With a clearer vision of how the optics field is expanding, Sussex County Community College (SCCC) in Newton is ramping up its offerings and creating partnerships, and by the looks of things, SCCC will clearly be a leading community college in terms of educating and training its students who see themselves as future optics technicians.


In late November, SCCC held a groundbreaking event unveiling its Optics Technology Center with 30 guests in attendance.


During the groundbreaking event, remarks were made by Dr. Jon Connolly, SCCC president; Tyler Morgus, Board of Trustees chair; and Jason Fruge, SCCC dean of Technical Studies.


Notable attendees were members of the board of trustees, members of the SCCC Foundation Board of Directors, County Commissioners Chris Carney and Jill Space, County Commissioner-elect Jack DeGroot, Assemblyman-elect Mike Inganamort, and business representatives from Thorlabs, Satisloh, and Esco Optics.


Connolly, Morgus, and Fruge led the groundbreaking event, which will entail a 2,500 sq. ft. addition at the R building.


Optics at SCCC

According to Fruge, the Optics Technology program at SCCC is in its fourth year. It started with classes held at Thorlabs in Newton. But after its first year, the program has slowly established itself on the SCCC main campus in the newly retrofitted R building, where it's been held for the past three years.


"The R building was retrofitted roughly three years ago," explained Fruge. "This retrofit transformed the classrooms into optics technology lab spaces. During the last three years, SCCC, in partnership with Thorlabs and AmeriCOM, has secured over $2.1 million in CNC, manufacturing, and metrology equipment."


The program will run 100% on the SCCC main campus starting in the spring of 2024, said Fruge. 


"Spring 24 will see the early construction to the expansion of the Optics Technology Center," said Fruge. This project is funded by a grant known as the Securing Our Children's Future Bond Act, a state bond grant issued to SCCC in 2022 in an effort to expand its optics technology program and add skilled workers to the workforce.


The program has been attracting more students annually. During the 2023 fall semester at SCCC, 15 students registered for classes in the optics program. Eight core classes are offered to enable students to achieve an associate degree in optics. 


In addition to its growth in terms of its space and student interest, the optics program at SCCC is establishing multiple partnerships with connections further than the eye can see. The connection with Thorlabs not only kicked off the SCCC program but it is providing employment opportunities for SCCC students. 


"All have either been offered employment or were current employees who have since then advanced in their roles," said Fruge. SCCC is providing "high demand, high skilled workers."

Fruge is thrilled with the collaboration. It is "amazing and would not be possible if not for the partnerships."  


Another partnership has been with Project Self-Sufficiency in Newton.


"The collaboration was initiated to allow students to be exposed to the world of optics technology while pursuing their high school equivalency," explained Cory Homer, SCCC vice president of Student Success and Institutional Effectiveness.  


"Students enrolled in traditional high schools have opportunities to earn concurrent enrollment credit with the college, but until this partnership was established, no such opportunity existed for these students," said Homer. "Students enrolled in the program take the Fundamentals of Optics Technology course on our campus several days a week."


Partnerships between SCCC and Project Self-Sufficiency are not new, as they date back 37 years.

 "Project Self-Sufficiency has had a robust and productive relationship with Sussex County Community College since its inception in 1986," remarked Project Self-Sufficiency Executive Director Deborah Berry-Toon. "We are delighted to have our New Jersey Youth Corps students engaged in the optics program at the college, where they are achieving three-course credits while simultaneously pursuing their high school diploma at Project Self-Sufficiency.


"In addition, we are fortunate to have a wonderful partner in Thorlabs," adds Berry-Toon. "During each program cohort, students are invited to tour their facility and learn about job openings in the field of fiber."


The students are high school dropouts who range in age from 16- 25. Their high school grades vary depending on when they dropped out. Cohorts with about 15 to 25 students are run three times a year for 16 weeks at a time. 


To learn more about the program, visit https://www.projectselfsufficiency.org/new-jersey-youth-corps


In 2021, SCCC became the nation's first community college to board as a partner with The American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM), a nationwide organization working with the Department of Defense. AmeriCOM subcontracted with SCCC to expand educational opportunities in optics technology. SCCC is receiving as much as $2 million to support the college's optics technology program, creating a state-of-the-art lab, distance learning courses, and dual-credit programs at regional high schools.

AmeriCOM's objective has been to partner with community colleges in the nation, under a five-year $34 million effort, to secure educational opportunities for students, making them eligible for employment in the growing optics industry.


To learn more about Why Optics Technicians are in High Demand, visit Why are Optics Technicians in demand? (sussex.edu).


The spring semester begins 1/22, apply today!


To get started in the SCCC Optics Technology program,

contact admissions@sussex.edu or call 973-300-2223.