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Microelectronics Technology poised for the future
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Susan HerefordPCC’s Microelectronics Technology program is stronger than ever with enrollment up 23 percent this past year. The timing couldn’t be better for the two-year training program, which provides technicians for the semiconductor industry. After a long drought, the industry has seen a pickup in hiring the past year.According to Margie Fyfield, Rock Creek Campus science and technology dean, there is great interest, particularly in the past six months. "They want our graduates," said Fyfield. "We’ve heard from other schools dealing with declining enrollments in programs like this, but we must be doing something right around here. Our trained technicians are in high demand." With the department’s move from a "temporary" location at the Capital Center nine years ago to a brand new facility this fall on the Rock Creek Campus, the program is poised to provide even greater opportunities for students and for industry partners who hire graduates. The Microelectronics Technology program will now be able to double in size to approximately 140 students.Industry connectionMost PCC graduates begin working in industry as technicians immediately upon graduation and are hired by Intel. Long-time corporate partner Intel worked with PCC to found the program in 1990. It was offered at Intel’s Aloha, Oregon campus from 1990 to 1995 under a contract administered by PCC. All courses were offered at Intel with the exception of laboratories in chemistry and physics, which were held at PCC. At this time, the program was only available to full-time Intel employees.Jesse Allen, the Intel Oregon intern manager for workforce development/recent technical graduate recruiting manager, works closely with PCC. He reiterates that the demand for graduates is heating up."We’ve been steady in our commitment at Intel, but in the last six to nine months, we’ve probably hired close to 100 technician positions. This year, 2004, we will hire 200 to 300 technicians," he said. "PCC is strategic school for Intel. We started this process many years ago. My job is to keep the pipeline moving smoothly."Allen said that even in down times, the company hires PCC program graduates."We’ve been hiring every year from the program," he said.But Intel isn’t the only company interested in PCC’s microelectronics graduates. Recently, companies such as Sun Microsystems and Applied Materials are calling the college looking for graduates and requesting resumes. According to Dorina Cornea, department chair of Microelectronics Technology, there is strong industry support with a number of semiconductor companies playing an active role on the program’s advisory committee."Students have internships at companies like Maxim Semiconductor," she said. "It’s very important to see the company first-hand."Another advisory board member, Integrated Device Technology of Hillsboro, has donated valuable engineering and technician time, allowing Cornea to visit their manufacturing facility and shadow engineers and technicians."It has helped me immensely to understand the type of training we need to provide so our students can perform on the job when they graduate," Cornea said. Students Speak"I feel good about this," said Jeff Handyside, 23, who is a first-year student in the program and working in a lab at the college’s Capital Center site in Washington County. Handyside had earned 90 credits toward a transfer degree in general studies but was uncertain of his future. He had an opportunity to work summers at Intel and realized he wanted a career in the industry. He’s now in the internship program set up between PCC and Intel, which provides half-time work at Intel with full-time studies, paid for by Intel."We work at least 20 hours, have vacation, float days, health insurance, stock options. We’re treated as equals," he said.Victor Pulido, 24, in his fourth term of the Microelectronics Technology program, worked as a hard laborer in the construction industry before enrolling at PCC. "Before I came up here," said the Los Angeles transplant, "I knew nothing about computers. Now I can take one apart."Benjamin Gipson, another intern at Intel, was just two terms shy of his bachelor’s degree in history from PSU before enrolling in microelectronics. "I plan to finish this up and work full time at Intel, then go back and finish up my bachelor’s" Gipson said. All three say there is excellent opportunity in the industry.Partner CommitmentIn the past year, the Microelectronics Technology program has earned several major awards from industry, which keeps the curriculum on the cutting edge.Intel donated equipment valued at $360,000 last summer and this summer awarded the department $25,000 in cash. The company also provided technical help designing the new labs, including support for an innovative distance learning laboratory.Overall, leading partner Intel Corp. has contributed approximately $2.4 million to the college in equipment and cash donations during the last 30 years.In 2003, Brooks Automation, a manufacturer of robotic equipment for the semiconductor industry, donated five robots to the program and also provided training for several instructors at their Massachusetts facility last winter. The equipment is valued at $135,000.Mike Gillis, Brooks Automation training manager for global training and performance support, said, "It helps our company – obviously a pool of candidates coming out with a background in robotics means the training curve is not as great. I think it is a good opportunity for students to get hands-on experience to have that opportunity to land a job with the training (on robotics)."Fyfield agrees and says the relationships work for everyone. "Our students can familiarize themselves on the type of equipment they will encounter when they are in the workplace so they can go directly from PCC to employment without additional training," she said. Allen of Intel says the support from the college has been instrumental. "What I attribute … is the partnership on all levels. Having the students, the faculty has been great and the administration has done a lot to help our investment," he said.