Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand, Morelle Announce Over $5 Million From The Department Of Defense To Bolster Monroe Community College As One Of The Only Community College Optics & Photonics Training Centers In The Nation And Give Finger Lakes Workers The Skills They Need For Good Paying Tech Careers Vital To National Security

Sep 27, 2023

Monroe Community College, One Of The Only Community Colleges In The Nation Offering An Optics and Photonics Associates Degree, Needed Federal Funds To Strengthen Facilities, Meet Regional Need For Trained Photonics Workers

Schumer Fought To Secure Critical Fed Boosts in the FY 23 Omnibus Appropriations Bill To Allow MCC To Strengthen Its World Class Optics & Photonics Degree Programs – Helping To Give Workers The Skills They Need For Major Local Employers And Build Up Workforce Vital To America’s Nation Security

Schumer, Gillibrand, Morelle: MCC And The Rochester-Finger Lakes Region Are Catching Eye Of DoD With Major Fed Investment In Optics & Photonics Training

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Congressman Joe Morelle today announced a $5.1 million 3-year grant award for Monroe Community College’s (MCC) optics program from the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP). Schumer, Gillibrand, and Morelle secured a critical increase for this program allowing MCC to tap this funding to help grow their program as previous funding was set to expire this month.  The representatives explained this major multi-year grant will provide the critical resources to fund MCC’s optics and photonics associate degree programs, providing Rochester optics and photonics companies the skilled workforce to fill good paying jobs in the region that are vital to our national security.

“Rochester has long been known for eye catching industries, and now after years of advocating for the growth of the vital optics and photonics industry, I was proud to secure the funding needed for the Department of Defense to double down on Monroe Community College as a major focus for training the optics workforce vital to our national security.  The Rochester optics industry, which boasts well over 100 optics companies that employ 18,000 workers, relies on MCC to train the next generation of skilled optical workers it needs to grow.  MCC is a proven leader in optics and photonics training with one of the first and only associate degrees in optics training and today we are building on that success by connecting local Rochester and Upstate New York students to good-paying Rochester jobs in this cutting edge field,” said Senator Schumer. “I am proud to deliver this major $5+ million federal grant, made possible by the critical increase I was able to secure in the FY23 Omnibus Bill, so that Monroe Community College can continue to train the next generation of optics technicians that are crafting the vision of our technological future.”

“For years, Monroe Community College has been training workers for careers in optics and photonics, jobs that are vital to our national security,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This funding will provide MCC with the crucial resources needed to prepare Finger Lakes workers for good-paying jobs and boost the local economy. I am proud to announce this funding and will continue to fight to provide resources to train workers for jobs that support our national defense.”

“Congratulations to Monroe Community College on receiving this prestigious and well-deserved Manufacturing Engineering Education Program award,” said Congressman Morelle. “This investment in our burgeoning optics workforce is not only key to our national defense, but also a conduit to enhancing our local economy and cementing our place as a regional tech hub. I’m grateful to Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for sharing this vision and appreciate their support for this funding.”

DeAnna R. Burt-Nanna, Ph.D., President of Monroe Community College said, “Monroe Community College continues building on its efforts to strengthen the talent pipeline across the Finger Lakes region to ensure a robust optics technician workforce. In 2023, MCC graduated the most students in the optical systems technology program’s history and has seen increased student enrollment in the program over the past two years. This latest federal funding support will enable MCC to create opportunities for more residents, especially those in historically underrepresented communities, to secure a family-sustaining career in the high-demand advanced manufacturing industry. We are grateful to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Representative Morelle for their leadership and support of our shared vision to advance the economic mobility of residents across all ZIP codes and bolstering our regional economy.”

Tom Battley, Executive Director, New York Photonics said, “The longest-standing precision optics program in the United States, at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY, led by Professor Alexis Vogt, is recognized around the country and around the world as the leading program of its kind. And the graduates have 100% job placement. Colleges around the country and precision optics manufacturers around the country are eager to learn how MCC does it.  Precision optics are essential in everything from defense and biotech applications to satellites and quantum technologies.  We count ourselves extremely lucky that our Washington delegation understands the importance of this critical program.”

Schumer, Gillibrand, and Morelle explained the DoD’s MEEP invests in programs that better position the current and next-generation manufacturing workforce vital for our nation’s military systems and components that assure defense technological superiority. This is second time MCC has been awarded funding through the MEEP program, as the nation’s first community college to administer associate degrees in precision optics.  With this latest round of funding MCC will be able to strengthen its existing program to grow the national workforce for the optics industry and give workers the skills they need for careers with major local employers in the region in the optics and photonics industry. Specifically, MCC seek to grow enrollement for this program for the highly in demand optics industry and seek to establish new training and apprenticeship opportunities.

Schumer, Gillibrand, and Morelle have been longtime advocates for Monroe Community College’s optics and photonics degree programs. In 2017, following their relentless advocacy, the representatives secured over $550,000 from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advanced Technology Foundation’s Education program for MCC to expand its optics and photonics degree programs, purchase new equipment, as well as develop a new curriculum and expand student outreach. Today’s award is a direct result of Senators Schumer, Gillibrand and Rep Morelle’s work to secure $15 million in federal funding in FY23 for the DoD’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP), allowing MCC to apply for the funding they received today, and the senator personally advocated to Defense Secretary Austin on MCC’s behalf to strengthen their program.

A copy of Schumer’s original letter to the DoD appears below

Dear Secretary Austin:

I am pleased to write in support of the application submitted by Monroe Community College (MCC) to the Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program. MCC’s “Defense Engineering Education Program – Enhancing Results in Optics” (DEEPER OPS) program will build on MCC’s past awards to bolster the national precision optics workforce and continue Rochester, NY’s legacy as the global leader in optics education, manufacturing, and research.

With the CHIPS and Science Act, Congress has made it a priority to bolster our technically-skilled workforce across the nation. This is crucial as post-pandemic issues continue to affect our supply chains, and cause labor shortages and gaps in skilled talent. Monroe County specifically has a major role in the photonics, imaging, and optics environment with over 150 STEM research and advanced manufacturing companies, and their need for skilled workers will only continue to grow. MCC plays a critical role in supplying talent for this network; however, they currently do not have enough graduates to meet the demand for skilled technicians.

With funding, MCC would grow our national workforce and ensure continued technological superiority for the Department of Defense by enhancing precision optics technician training, grow enrollment and graduation of participants, particularly females, single parents, low-income and underrepresented groups, as well as veterans, and lastly establish direct engagement and outreach between students and the optics industry.

MCC’s DEEPER OPS proposal will build on the framework of their first MEEP grant and will reach more than 3,000 precollegiate students, apprentices, and incumbent workers. It will also establish 50 apprenticeships and engage 15 industry sponsors, illustrating the strong program and support MCC has across the community.

I applaud Monroe Community College for their foresight and I sincerely hope the application meets with your approval.

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my Grants Coordinator in my Washington, DC office at 202-224-6542.