Skip Navigation

Keene State And AmeriCOM Launch Partnership To Help Address A Critical Workforce Demand

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations
Nathan Priebe '24
Nathan Priebe ’24 earned a degree in Sustainable Product Design & Innovation and works full-time at Precitech AMETEK in Keene in manufacturing engineering. “Nate’s a wonderful success story, and he’s on a great trajectory in our field,” Keith Kowalski, the firm’s vice president and business unit manager, said.

Growing the number of precision optics technicians is primary goal

Keene State College has launched a partnership with the American Center for Optics Manufacturing, Inc., known as AmeriCOM, to increase capacity for work-ready technicians in a rapidly advancing, in-demand industry, and to expand opportunities for its students, faculty, and regional employers in precision manufacturing.

AmeriCOM is a workforce training initiative and a defense precision optics consortium.

A public liberal arts college, Keene State offers a curriculum in manufacturing engineering technologies and optics applications. It is the first four-year post-secondary institution to partner with AmeriCOM and the fifth overall. Working in concert with colleges, community colleges, and vocational training centers that offer programs in optics technician training is central to the charge and model of AmeriCOM’s work, which is multi-layered and strategically coordinated.

Sussex County Community College (Newtown, NJ), Monroe Community College (Rochester, NY), Valencia College (Orlando, FL), and Front Range Community College (Longmont CO) are other active partners working with AmeriCOM to train new optics technicians.

“Keene State College’s approach to advanced manufacturing education provides us with a tremendous opportunity to strengthen the optics workforce throughout New England and the nation,” said Dave Shelton, AmeriCOM president and CEO. “We look forward to our continued work with the College to provide pathways for people interested in a career in precision optics manufacturing, particularly in the specialized field of single-point diamond turning.”

Partners from the optics industry sector, nonprofit organizations, and government representatives on local, state, and federal levels are integral to addressing the overarching goal of training more optics technicians, said Dr. Jim Kraly, the College’s associate dean for academic program innovation.

This critical national shortage led the U.S. Department of Defense to select AmeriCOM to drive an effort to grow and sustain the manufacturing base in this important sector.

This announcement comes on the heels of Keene State receiving substantial Congressionally Directed Spending funds to provide training and education for precision manufacturing, optics, and thin-film technologies. The $3 million grant, secured by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, will allow Keene State to invest in classroom improvements, program and curricular development, and more specialized equipment. This grant will also facilitate innovative growth projects with industry partners.

The College has chosen an on-campus site for its new teaching and training precision optics lab, which will be called the Kingsbury Center for Diamond Turning Excellence. The lab will include diamond-turning and metrology equipment.

The College has chosen an on-campus site for its new teaching and training precision optics lab, which will be called the Kingsbury Center for Diamond Turning Excellence. The lab will include diamond-turning and metrology equipment. A $100,000 gift from the Kingsbury Foundation in Keene, NH, and the CDS award make the lab possible. The fund was established in 1952 by the Kingsbury Corporation, once one of Keene’s largest manufacturing companies.

Within 100 miles of Keene State, over a dozen businesses thrive using single-point diamond turning machining, thin films, specialty glass, and advanced optics. The coupling effect of the partnership and government funds will enable the College to offer additional courses for college credit, non-credit training, employer-based training, micro-credentials, and interdisciplinary applied research in these priority areas.

Optics technicians craft precise components, primarily lenses fashioned from blocks of glass. With ultra-precision surfaces and geometries, the lenses are driving innovation … televisions, robotics, satellites, space telescopes, and smartphones are a few examples. Aerospace, defense manufacturing, and medical equipment producers also rely on complex optical and mechanical components.

“This consortium creates and codifies mutual incentives for AmeriCOM and Keene State to meet critical workforce shortages and, most importantly, creates and expands educational and training pathways to success for learners at all levels — our current college students, current employees and employers in the region, area career and technical education centers, and others,” Dr. Melinda Treadwell, Keene State’s president, said.

Mark Boomgarden, President and CEO of Moore Nanotechnology Systems headquartered in Swanzey, NH, which neighbors Keene, has worked closely with the College for several years around this workforce topic. Boomgarden also sits on Keene State’s Innovation Advisory Council, adopted in 2020. The Council is a long-term strategic body aligned to offer guidance and partnership to Treadwell and her Cabinet. Led by industry experts, the Council has a finger on the pulse of what the region and world need from Keene State – its academic programs and its students, Treadwell said.

For 25 years, Nanotech has been a world leader in designing, developing, and manufacturing state-of-the-art ultra-precision machine tools and associated processes.

“Nanotech’s partnership with Keene State College has been extremely important for the community and the world of ultra-precision,” Boomgarden shared. “This is most notably seen through training the next generation of engineers, skilled technicians, and operators in the use of the most advanced machine tools and CAM software available in the market.”

“Combining these activities with AmeriCOM’s strategic focus on educating the next-generation workforce, it’s quite clear that the future of the optics industry is very bright,” he added.

AmeriCOM has ambitious capacity-building goals, including raising the number of trained technicians nationwide from fewer than 50 each year to 800 annually.

“Building a skilled workforce requires creativity, creating pathways for current workers to train into better-paying jobs, and a strong education and training system,” Kraly said. “This exciting partnership and Congressional funds toward similar shared outcomes will help Keene State more quickly meet obvious market needs.”

Precitech AMETEK is a Keene-based maker of ultra-precision machine tools. The company’s roots in the region date to the early 1960s, and its reliance on the greater region as a workplace talent pool inspired it to lend Keene State a diamond-turning lathe on which students can gain skills and experience.

Keith Kowalski, the firm’s vice president and business unit manager, said Keene State’s partnership with AmeriCOM is a positive step in directly addressing a skills gap and getting more work-ready employees in the door of precision manufacturing firms.

What is needed ultimately, Kowalski maintains, is a more sustained and reliable feeder system.

“The Monadnock Region has a rich precision engineering history and strong high-accuracy manufacturing ecosystem employing many talented individuals, several of whom studied at Keene State,” Kowalski said. “We look forward to supporting the next generation of experts who wish to work in the ultra-precision and optics field while making their home in the greater Keene area.”

As technology changes, adult learners will seek ways to keep their skills applicable. Likewise, traditional-age students still emerging from the pandemic will need creative higher education options and pathways to stay in step with those changes.

“Our work needs to include imagining opportunities that serve existing students and programs, as well as new students and new offerings, such as industry-focused training courses and one-year certificates,” Kowalski said, adding that additional “purpose-specific teaching spaces” for precision optics and more instruction and equipment capacity are essential.

Keene State offers a one-of-a-kind integrative degree in sustainable product design & innovation. The major includes, among other things, combining industrial design, project management, and manufacturing engineering technologies. Students can also take classes with optical applications and earn a micro-credential in that discipline.

More than ever, Treadwell mentioned, “Keene State must do all it can with our present-day challenges and realities around this topic.” “Together, we will develop and expand curricula, support dual enrollment for high school students, create upskilling and tailored training for the existing regional employers and employees, and expand capacity by ‘training the trainers’ to close the workforce development loop.

“If we can help local industry find the talent it needs, and that businesses and students need to grow and to stay here, that’s a win-win.”

About Keene State College

Keene State College is a preeminent public liberal arts college that ensures student access to world-class academic programs. Integrating academics with real-world application and active community and civic engagement, Keene State College prepares graduates to meet society’s challenges by thinking critically, acting creatively, and serving the greater good. Learn more about Keene State College

About AmeriCOM

The U.S. Department of Defense designated AmeriCOM to make investments that develop optic manufacturing technologies, testing equipment, and the specialized materials required to support scalable manufacturing. It looks to the nation’s optics industry to help drive and execute a research and development agenda to achieve sustainable manufacturing options and to academia to raise awareness about the field of optics and to train and educate more optics technicians Learn more about AmeriCOM

Related Stories

Contact Keene State College

229 Main Street
Keene, New Hampshire 03435