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An Overview of U.S. Optics Programs

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Poster Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.200.1 - 22.200.10



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Paper Authors

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Lauren D. Thomas Virginia Tech


Lisa D. McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa McNair, Ph.D., Linguistics, University of Chicago, is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and co-Director of the VT Engineering Communication Center (VTECC). She is involved in several NSF-funded projects that explore issues of learning, practicing and teaching interdisciplinarity in university and industry settings. Her teaching emphasizes the roles of engineers as communicators and educators, the foundations and evolution of the engineering education discipline, and assessing communication in engineering. Her research includes communication and interdisciplinary collaboration, institutional structures that encourage transformational learning, and integrating engineering, the social sciences, and the humanities.

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An Overview of U.S. Optics ProgramsOptical engineering has existed as a specialty within electrical engineering, physics, materialscience, and other academic departments and a significant industry focus for over 70 years. Formost of that period only a few degree-granting programs existed in the United States, with thefirst at the University of Rochester. In the last decade, however, several degree-grantingprograms in optical engineering or optics and photonics have been established. Documenting thedevelopment of these educational programs in optics has not been completed, yet such anendeavor would yield valuable insight on the emergence of this interdisciplinary field. Trackingthis development is critical for examining and constructing the pedagogical approaches used totrain engineers skilled in both theoretical and applied science that draws from various disciplines.This paper will review the degree-granting optics programs in the U.S. by comparing curricula,faculty background, and student enrollment characteristics.Data for this synthesis of information about American optics programs has been collectedthrough web search, literature review, and information available from the Optical Society ofAmerica and SPIE’s optics education website. The mission statements of departments are alsoexamined in this work, as well as initial interviews with program leaders. To limit the scope, onlydepartments and programs that offer degrees specifically in optics and photonics or opticalengineering are reviewed. Similarities are revealed in course offerings, curricular design, andresearch specialties within optics of these departments. Many of the newer departments have hadthe benefit of being established in an engineering culture that places more value in incorporatingengineering education theory and willingness to change its approach to training students.Through interviews of program leaders, we also find evidence of scholarly teaching, themesfrom Educating the Engineer of 2020, and the Grand Challenges for Engineering beingintegrated into the department culture and approach to learning.Through this initial review of program development in the field of optics, identify patterns ofhow this interdisciplinary field is growing with inputs and outcomes in physics, engineering, andthe sciences.

Thomas, L. D., & McNair, L. D. (2011, June), An Overview of U.S. Optics Programs Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17481

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