Community colleges are critical


Go to any small-tech seminar or conference these days and you’re almost guaranteed to hear folks lamenting the shortage of workers skilled in small-tech topics. Thank goodness, then, that community colleges across the country are beginning to develop micro- and nanotechnology programs. We have just four to report on this year, but just look at what they’re doing. And expect more next year.

Central New Mexico Community College

Albuquerque, N.M.
Central New Mexico (CNM) Community College, formerly known as Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, is in the third year of its four-year, $2.8 million National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) grant. The college houses the Southwest Center for Microsystems Education (SCME) and has strategic alliances with Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico, and several other organizations. In addition to its NSF funding, CNM receives $1.2 million in Perkins funding.

CNM has two full-time MEMS instructors and two full-time photonics instructors. The curriculum offers a half-dozen micro- and nanotechnology-specific courses and a two-year MEMS technologist concentration program under the Manufacturing Technology Applied Science Associate degree program-a microsystems-specific degree (six were awarded in 2006). Furthermore, the school offers a minor in small tech.

In addition to using the facilities at CNM, students are allowed access to the Manufacturing Training and Technology Center cleanroom at the University of New Mexico.

Matthias Pleil, faculty/principal investigator at CNM, is proud to say that all his students get jobs working for microtechnology organizations such as AgilOptics, TPL, Emcore, Intel, and Sandia National Laboratories.

CNM’s program does a substantial amount of outreach. It sponsors 100 secondary and post-secondary educators for MEMS workshops each year and is creating educational materials to be used by teachers. Further, the college reaches out to high schools, middle schools, and the general public to educate them on MEMS and microsystems, and why youngsters might consider a career in the technologies. CNM recently completed an industry survey and job profiling project to define what is required of MEMS technologists.

Chippewa Valley Technical College

Eau Claire, Wis.
Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) awards a two-year associate degree in Nanoscience Technology with emphases in bionanotechnology, nanotechnology in agriculture, nanomaterials, and nanoelectronics.

The program provides a rich set of tools to pursue its focus on analysis of nanoscale phenomena: SEM, AFM, STM, EDS, contact aligner, etc. There is also a 1,000-sq.-ft. Class 100 cleanroom. The capstone semester covers nano and MEMs manufacturing. The same course of study includes work in conventional micro processes, including Swiss screw machine operation, high spindle speed milling, EDM, and measurement.

The faculty consists of two nano/MEMS instructors and two more instructors focused on conventional micromachining. Coursework covers nanomaterials characterization and synthesis, nano- and microfabrication, and nanobiotechnology. CVTC offers a two-year associate degree in nanoscience technology (30 students are currently enrolled, and the college awarded 15 such degrees in 2006), and soon plans to confer certificates in microfabrication and MEMS.

CVTC’s small-tech program benefits from National Science Foundation ATE program funding ($217,000), a GPR grant of $182,000 over three years from the Wisconsin Technical College System, and more than $100,000 in industry support. The college has affiliations for both MEMS and nano studies with the University of Wisconsin (three campuses), and the Midwest Center for Nanotechnology Education Consortium (involving six other colleges and universities).

The NanoRite Innovation Center on the Gateway Campus will open in the summer of 2007, offering incubation services to firms pursuing nanotechnology, microfabrication, and micro-machining applications.

Forsyth Tech Community College

Winston-Salem, N.C.
Forsyth Tech Community College is focused on nanotechnology. Its two-year Associate of Applied Science Degree in Nanotechnology includes eight new nano-specific courses, and its technical facility boasts one dynamic mode AFM and three SPMs. But the college plans to augment its supply of tools with two more AFMs and some nanofabrication equipment in the current calendar year.

In addition to $250,000 in state funding, the Wachovia Foundation has pledged $500,000 to Forsyth to support the only nanotechnology degree program in the southeastern United States.

Forsyth partners with Wake Forest University Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials for technical advice, adjunct instructors, and electron microscopy facilities. One full-time faculty member and two adjuncts teach nanotechnology at the college. The full-time faculty member is currently doing computational research on the electronic structure of solids, while one adjunct is working on elastic properties of biological materials with AFMs.

Because the nanotech degree is so new, there haven’t been any graduates in the program thus far; however, there are currently six students enrolled in nanotechnology coursework.

A co-op is required for graduation; students are currently placed with the Wake Forest University Health Sciences Center for Regenerative Medicine to catalog the biological effects of various nanostructures on living cells, and Smith Moore LLP, as part of an intellectual property management team, focused on nanotechnology issues. In addition, students and faculty have been active in professional meetings with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Appalachian Region Electron Microscopy Society.

Tulsa Community College

Tulsa, Okla.
Now in its second year, the small-tech program at Tulsa Community College offers an associate degree in electronics with a nanotechnology option, and a nanotechnology certificate. The coursework includes four nano-focused classes (nanotechnology, nanoscience, nanoelectronics, and nanocomposites) and covers MEMS, microscopy, vacuum, bio-medical applications, plastics, top-down processing, and health issues as the main topics.

While TCC does not receive outside funding at this time, it has a small cleanroom-used for work in both micro- and nanotechnology-and provides equipment, including a vacuum system, optical microscopes, dark field fluorescents, and digital meters. In addition, TCC plans to purchase a cytoviva system this year.

The program’s single faculty member serves 13 students.