When Annaliese Reed graduated from Pomona High School in 2017, she was interested in the field of nursing.
A graduate of Jefferson County Schools’ Warren Tech Nurse Aide & Introduction to Healthcare program, Annaliese was excited about helping people in her career.
“I got a job in a nursing home and started a nursing program at a four-year university here in the metro area, but after a year, I realized it might not be the best fit,” she says.
Trying New Options
Annaliese decided to take a break from school to figure things out. She worked as a pet groomer, a travel agent, a jewelry consultant, a florist—and even in e-commerce for King Soopers.
“Along the way, I figured out that I am someone who likes working with my hands,” she says. “I started thinking about going back to school, but I wasn’t sure what to study or where to go.”
Having grown up in Arvada, Front Range Community College’s Westminster Campus was familiar to Annaliese. “It was close to home so I looked at what kinds of programs they had,” she says.
“That’s when I stumbled across the optics technology certificate program. It sounded really interesting. I’d get to learn about the behavior and properties of light. I’d learn about lasers and lenses. I figured I’d take a class and see.”
Annaliese started FRCC’s optics program in May 2021 and fell in love with her course work. “I have always disliked traditional school, but this was short lectures and then immediately getting to work with our hands.”
“I’d make high-reflection optical systems and filter out wavelengths of light. It was a new world I didn’t know existed, and it was amazing to me.” Just one year later, Annaliese graduated with her optics technology certificate.
More Jobs Than Trained Technicians
The optics technology certificate prepares students for a wide range of entry-level positions in optics manufacturing—and demand is high.
“Our program officially started in spring 2019,” says Amanda Meier, director of FRCC’s optics technology program. “We’ve seen growing demand in the job market for students with these skills, in industries ranging from aerospace to defense to biomedical to industrial laser manufacturing.”
The median salary for optics or laser manufacturing technicians is around $62,000, according to wage data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021).
Increasing Demand for High-Tech Training
Just last year, FRCC was among six schools in the United States selected for federal grant funding to train optics technicians for companies in Colorado and around the country. The influx of funding is helping pay for new state-of-the-art equipment for the optics technology classroom and laboratory at the college’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing in Longmont. FRCC’s optics technology program is the only one of its kind in the state.
The administrator of the $34 million Department of Defense grant—the American Center for Optics Manufacturing—is developing a workforce training initiative for optics and photonics. The goal is to increase the capacity and quality of skilled optics technicians in the US by a factor of 16. By 2025, the group aims to bump up the number of trained new technicians from less than 50 per year to 800 per year.
Starting Her New Job
Annaliese certainly experienced a hot job market when she graduated this May. Her résumé garnered interest from six companies, several of which invited her in for interviews.
In June 2022, Annaliese accepted a position at Perkins Precision Development, a manufacturer of custom precision optical components. The company creates products such as:
- laser mirrors
- polarizing beam splitter cubes
- wedge windows
- spherical lenses
- plate polarizers
- penta prisms
Physics of Light—Applied to the Real World
Perkins’ products get used by industries such as telecommunications, aerospace, security and defense. Their devices are used in:
- equipment that inspects and tests semi-conductors
- high-energy laser systems
- material processing
- medical instrumentation
“I get to work with high-functioning geometrics and lasers, and I get to make glass pieces that interact with light in different ways,” she says. “It’s fascinating to me, and I never thought about light before like I do now.”
Goal for the Future: An AAS Degree
Annaliese says finding a career where she can grow and continue learning makes her happy. “I want to continue my education,” she says. She hopes to enroll in FRCC’s new optics degree program, which begins this fall, to earn an Associate of Applied Science in her new field. (And with the optics certificate she just completed, she’s already halfway done with her degree.)
It took a while to find her way, but Annaliese says that she couldn’t be happier in her new job. “I would definitely recommend this program to others—and I already have, actually,” she says.
“This program is perfect for those who like hands-on learning and work.”
“Overall, I’m happy to have job security, a great employer with phenomenal people there who are excited to teach me—and a path that I’m happy about.”