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College’s Career-Awareness Television Series to Debut on WVIA


The question of “What do I want to be when I grow up?” has been asked for ages, but advancing technologies have made the question more difficult to answer in the 21st century.

Pennsylvania College of Technology and northeastern and northcentral Pennsylvania’s public-television station, WVIA, are partnering to help young students, parents and educators learn more about modern career opportunities.

The first episode in a new, Penn College-produced “degrees that work.” television series is set to debut on WVIA this month. WVIA plans to air the episode, focused on careers applying an emerging materials science field known as nanotechnology, on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 24, at 4 p.m.

The “degrees that work.” series is designed to build awareness of careers that may be less familiar to the public but offer ample job opportunities and are projected to see employment growth in the future. The topics have been developed to coincide with Pennsylvania’s “targeted industry clusters,” which the state has identified as potential areas of growth. The first four episodes focus on industries related to “advanced materials and diversified manufacturing,” including electronics, manufacturing, welding and plastics.

The nanotechnology episode helps to define a technology that uses knowledge of atoms and molecules to enhance modern life through product development and medical research. The 30-minute presentation explores the technology and the related career opportunities with experts in the field, and it follows a former Penn College student, Mark A. Atwater, as he completes his education at one of the nation’s top nanotechnology education facilities, The Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization.

What Is Nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is the largest publicly funded science initiative since the space race. The National Science Foundation predicts there will be a need for 2 million workers in nanotechnology by 2015 1 million in the United States.

Experts in the field say that nothing so small has ever been so big. “Nano” refers to “1-billionth” in the metric measuring system. A nanometer is 1-billionth of a meter, or 1-millionth of a millimeter. By comparison, a strand of hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide.

“Nanotechnology is the newest manufacturing development which allows us to make things at a level of size heretofore reserved to nature,” said Eric K. Albert, associate professor of machine tool technology/automated manufacturing at Penn College. “Thus, we can build structures using individual atoms, one at a time. This could be anything from a new drug molecule to various sorts of sensors, memory components and engineered materials that could not be made any other way.”

A National Model Albert coordinates the articulation agreement between Penn College and Penn State that allows Penn College students to complete a six-course, 18-credit semester at the Penn State facility. Penn State’s commonwealth campuses and special mission affiliates, including Penn College; the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education; and all of the state’s community colleges hold similar agreements that allow students to articulate into the capstone semester. Penn College was the first to offer the opportunity to its students, and the curriculum developed through its cooperation with Penn State has served as a national model.

The documentary includes interviews with Penn State Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization staff, including Stephen J. Fonash, director of the facility and one of the country’s leading nanotechnology education experts, and with Penn College faculty members Jeffrey L. Rankinen, associate professor of electronics, and Albert.

Atwater completed the program earning a nanofabrication technology competency credential in the summer of 2005, following his sophomore year of study toward a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology, which he earned in May.

The Warren native is now taking graduate courses in materials science and engineering at the University of New Mexico.

A video production crew from Penn College followed Atwater as he worked with state-of-the-art equipment in Penn State’s 2,700-square-foot, $32 million nanofabrication lab, including Class 10 clean rooms, which are 10,000 times cleaner than a hospital operating room, to avoid contaminating the microscopic particles involved in nanotechnology processes.

From the outside, the technology can seem intimidating; however, as Atwater learned during his student experience, education breaks down the barriers and opens up opportunities that far exceed expectations.

“That wasn’t something that I thought I could do,” Atwater said. “That was something I figured you had to have Ph.Ds or that you had to have 20 years’ experience out in the field or had to be some kind of crazy scientist. “¦ But then it came back up as an opportunity that was available to me as a student at Penn College, and that’s when I started taking a more serious look at it.”

The crew following Atwater was impressed and aspired to develop a television production that would inspire others to consider this little-known career field.

“We obviously picked an outstanding student to follow,” said Tom Speicher, Penn College’s video production developer. “Mark Atwater is a wonderful role model for any student in any program. “¦ It’s inspiring to see how hard he and the others work.”

Joining Speicher on the Penn College production crew developing the episode was Christopher J. Leigh, video production coordinator, who was producer/director/editor for the nanotechnology episode. Speicher was producer/writer/narrator. Christopher J. Legarski, instructional media developer, contributed footage and animation.

The concept for the series was developed by Elaine J. Lambert, director of college information and community relations, and Jennifer A. McLean, director of counseling, career and disability services, who serve as executive producers for the series.

WVIA, the Pittston-based station, provided advice to the college’s video production team. The station also will work with the college to distribute the series to other PBS stations.

“Helping people understand what 21st century careers look like is a big part of the series’ goal,” McLean said. “Many industries have difficulty attracting interest because they are not familiar to a typical 17- or 18-year-old who is graduating from high school and making choices about a career or college education. Other industries no longer match old perceptions. Jobs have changed over recent generations. It is time to take a fresh look at what opportunities are out there before deciding what kind of career you want to pursue “¦ or that you want to encourage your child to pursue.”

Reaching Out Through Television The Penn College series, according to Lambert, continues a long tradition of connecting education and workforce development that began in the early years of the 20th century, when local employment needs led to the development of the college’s forerunners, Williamsport Technical Institute and Williamsport Area Community College.

“Our mission has always been to find out what education is needed to prepare men and women to be successful in a modern workforce and then to provide the best quality education possible to meet those needs,” Lambert said.

Creating this television series, she added, takes career awareness to the next level in order to meet 21st century needs.

“If we can reach out to people and make them more aware of the careers, we believe we can really help secure the skills that are needed to expand and grow Pennsylvania’s industries. We think TV is a good way to reach large numbers of people in our effort to make a difference,” Lambert said.

Penn College has been exploring television outreach for more than a decade. The college produced a local cable series, “Penn College & You,” in the 1990s.

That series inspired a cooking show, “You’re the Chef,” that began on local cable and then expanded into a partnership with WVIA Public Television. Both series had national exposure; “Penn College & You” aired on a satellite network, and “You’re the Chef” was seen nationwide on public television and local cable systems.

In addition to airing the series on WVIA, Lambert said the college will offer a Web site designed to provide more career-awareness opportunities. The college through its Outreach for K-12 Office also plans to work with WVIA to develop educational materials for K-12 educators to use in the classroom in conjunction with the “degrees that work.” television series.

For more information about Penn College, visit online , e-mail or call toll-free (800) 367-9222.

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