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updated: 12/23/2013 4:47 PM

College of Lake County approves first photonics degree in Chicago area

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Submitted by College of Lake County

With the addition of a new Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Optics and Photonics Technology, students at the College of Lake County will have the opportunity to prepare for careers in an emerging high-technology field. The new degree supplements a certificate program CLC launched in 2009.

The CLC board of trustees approved to add the degree, effective Jan. 1, 2014. CLC created the degree and purchased equipment for the program through its participation in National Science Foundation grants totaling $1 million. CLC is the only community college in the Chicago area to offer either a certificate or A.A.S. program in photonics and optics.

The degree will prepare graduates to work in optics, lasers and fiber optics positions. Graduates are qualified for technician positions in manufacturing, aerospace, defense, entertainment, laser manufacturing, energy, medicine, automotive, lighting and communications.

According to a study done by the University of North Texas, there are about 192 positions for graduates in the Chicago area, or about 12 percent of positions nationwide. The industry needs about 1,900 new technicians per year in photonics, but only about 300 are graduating per year nationwide. "Companies that employ laser/photonics/optics technicians range from Boeing and GE to local companies that manufacture heart stints to a Milwaukee railroad car manufacturer," said Steve Dulmes, the faculty coordinator of the program.

The average national starting salary for photonics technicians is $44,761 a year, according to a 2012 report by the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OP-TEC). In Lake County, the average salary is even higher -- $59,000, according to OP-TEC.