A Teacher’s Experience at Edmund Optics

Claire, far right, with her O-RETINAS RET cohort at the closing poster session.

Edmund Optics (EO), Inc. is where my industry experience took place. In 1942, EO started as a supplier of optics and science items for hobby and educational purposes. As EO celebrates its 75th anniversary, they have become a leading manufacturer and supplier of lens and optics equipment worldwide. The site visits to the Edmund Optics Tucson office included shadowing the employees of the following departments: research & development, design, and customer service.

Edmund Optics Tucson office included shadowing the employees of the following departments: research & development, design, and customer service.

I started in the research and development (R & D) department. The task on this day was to find the right combination of pressure, direction of movement, and composition of slurry to create a suitable cylindrical lens. This involved measuring a 3-dimensional surface of the blank (lens), using a light meter to take a picture of the surface of the lens, and polishing the lens by adjusting the factors involved (time, composition of the polishing slurry, the polishing pad, the pressure applied to the blank (lens) and the configuration of the movement of the polishing pad). The measurement and picture of the blank were done by machines. However, the polishing of the blank (lens) required an understanding of physics, chemistry, and mathematics, and experience in the use of the materials used.

Claire presents her project to her Edmund Optics hosts.

My second visit was to the design department. When a customer needs a specialized optics system, they talk to the design department. The process begins with the optics design engineer communicating with the customer. The design engineer then creates a design of the optics system that meets the requirements of the customer. Once an optimal choice of components has been made, the design engineer creates a blueprint of the optics system and sends it to the mechanical engineer. The job of the mechanical engineer is to analyze the optics system blueprint and make decisions on whether the design is physically possible to build. Then the mechanical engineer will consider the materials and the fabrication process and, if necessary, will make modifications to the design. If the specifications are too tight or limiting, then the mechanical engineer will send the blueprint back to the design engineer with recommendations for improvement. Once a blueprint has been finalized, it is sent to the manufacturing location in Barrington, New Jersey.

In the lab at the University of Arizona.

My third visit was to the customer support department. There are two types of employee positions in this department, customer support and product support. Most of the customer support employees have engineering degrees. A customer support employee must be familiar with the optics in the EO catalog. To learn about optics components newly-hired employees go through five weeks of training. This training includes phone etiquette, product identification in the EO catalog, and a personality evaluation. Once training is complete the customer support employee is ready to process online and phone orders. What happens when a customer calls to order an optics component but doesn’t know whether it is the right one? Then the job goes to the product support employee. These are the employees who help the customer make a product choice based on their needs. They are trained to determine whether EO has the correct part or if the part needs to be a custom made.

As I reflect on my site visits with Edmund Optics, Inc., I realize their success in the lens and optics equipment business is because they have a knowledgeable workforce. Almost every employee at EO, even the customer support employee, has an engineering degree. The employees at EO know optics. The field of optics is presently experiencing rapid growth and for EO to keep up with the demand for precision lens and optics components, they need to have well-trained and knowledgeable employees. The knowledge EO employees bring to their jobs is invaluable.

My students…must also be equipped with a toolbox filled with 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, innovation, communication, problem-solving, analysis, and research skills. It’s my job to get them there.

How have these visits impacted me professionally? The implications for me as a science teacher are I need to stay abreast of the latest educational trends, I need to have a sound knowledge of the subject matter I teach, and I need to continually update my catalog of instructional strategies. If my students are going to be ready for a career that requires them to be technologically savvy, not only must they be aware of the latest trends in their chosen field, they must also be equipped with a toolbox filled with 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, innovation, communication, problem-solving, analysis, and research skills. It’s my job to get them there.

The final project

How will I convey the importance of this message to my students? I need to communicate to my students the importance of knowing their subject matter and of developing the skills and learning strategies that will make them great employees. I can help my students know their subject matter by including instructional strategies that include components of inquiry and discovery. I can help my students further their knowledge base by including assignments that include information gathering with the use of technology. I can include lessons that combine the engineering design process with opportunities for students to report/present their findings. As I provide these types of learning opportunities for my students, I will remind them that the skills they are practicing in our classroom are the very skills they are going to need in STEM careers.

Learn more about applying to the O-RETINAS RET Program!

Learn more about Edmund Optics.

Claire McKenzie
7-12th grade teacher at
Los Alamitos Middle School

My name is Claire McKenzie. I graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1988 with a Bachelor’s degree in math education and completed the teacher certification program by 1991. My teaching career began at Manzano High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the next 7 years, I taught middle and high school mathematics in northwestern New Mexico. I took a leave of absence to raise and homeschool my children.  Returning to teaching in 2012, I accepted a position to teach developmental math at New Mexico State University in Grants, New Mexico for three years. Once I became endorsed to teach secondary science, I accepted my current teaching assignment as the STEM physics teacher at Los Alamitos Middle School in Grants, New Mexico.

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