Rochester leads national efforts to grow optics industry

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Almost everything you use in day-to-day life is connected to optics. The phone screen you look at, the TV screen, and even parts of the car you drive. 

Nea Hamilton wasn’t sure of her career path after graduating high school, before she got interested in the field of optics.

“I was working at a restaurant making pizza, delivering pizza, it was a hard life so one day I decided I wanted to do something different.”

Optics caught her eye. It’s working with your hands, to design lasers, camera mirrors, screens for your phone, and the list goes on.

Now, she’s sharing her story with other youth at this year’s international OptiFab Conference held at the Riverside Convention Center in Rochester.

High school and college students were invited to tour the OptiFab floors, see the latest in Optics technology, and meet with industry experts about opportunities after graduation.

Organizer Dr. Alexis Vogt says demand for these kinds of jobs is higher than ever, and Monroe Community College is leading efforts to recruit across the nation.

“MCC is the only college in the entire world awarding associate degrees in precision optics and we simply need more students here, we have grown substantially” said Dr. Vogt. “Even with our substantial growth we don’t have enough technicians to fill the demand around the entire country not even in the Rochester region.”

MCC is working with local Optics organization AmeriCOM to share first-of-its-kind curriculum in six regions around the country.

The goal — to produce hundreds of optics workers.

Students say having such a large community like this in their own backyard, drew their attention.

“It gave me a good assurance that after high school I would be secure, not have to worry about if the job market is competitive,” said Eric Huynh.

“I see first of all there’s a shortage, and it’s in a science that is pretty interesting, and it’s gonna be innovating, helping with future technologies all over the place,” said Cooper White.

Hamilton says she remembers what it’s like to be uncertain about your future. But optics is something that caught her by surprise.

She’s beaming watching others catch that same spark for an industry right here, in Rochester.

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