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Microelectronics instructor climbs to success

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African Film Festival posterEric Kirchner usually has his head in the clouds mountain climbing around the Northwest.

"I like the outdoors and love to mountain climb, back country ski, wind surf, mountain bike and kayak," he said.

But as a PCC microelectronics instructor, Kirchner has both feet on the ground. In his fourth year as an instructor, the Boston, Mass., native came to the college from LSI Logic in Gresham where he developed several processing patents for the company.

Kirchner knew right away teaching at a community college was what he wanted to do. So, the lure of instruction and the thought of helping students brought him west to PCC.

"High school and elementary levels are really challenging," said Kirchner, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics and a doctorate in materials engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. "You have a lot of responsibility to the student to get them graduated. I don’t see myself having the skill set necessary for high school. And there is not enough emphasis on teaching at research universities. I wanted to teach and PCC was a great fit."

And the PCC Microelectronics Technology Program is a great fit for students. The program and Intel have partnered to make it possible for students to gain valuable on-the-job training. Each year, Intel accepts 32-34 qualified work-study students out of the PCC program, where they not only work toward their associate’s degree in microelectronics but also get valuable work experience 20 hours a week. The company covers school expenses and offers full benefits with the goal of successful transition into Intel’s workforce. According to the program, 98 percent of the students in the work-study move on to full-time employment.

The Microelectronics Technology Program needs students since Intel desires 50 of them for its work-study program per year and can hire up to 100 every year. The PCC program is based at the Washington County Workforce Training Center (18624 NW Walker Rd) and offers an associate’s degree and the Employment Skills Training Certificate a state-approved, six-month program consisting of 18 credits.

"Our microelectronics program trains people to work in the factory, putting together chips for cell phones, computers, video game units and military equipment, to name a few," said Kirchner, an ice hockey player when he isn’t climbing or windsurfing. "The big one is Intel, which is where most of our students want to work. Places like Intel won’t hire a person without an associate’s degree. Our program tries to meet that need."

It makes sense for students to finish the program. Starting salary in the semiconductor field is $40,000 and after a few years can make as much as $100,000 with excellent benefits. And, credits can be transferred to Oregon Institute of Technology toward a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology.

For Kirchner he’s at home with PCC. And the thrills of the great outdoors or the ice rink can’t compare to what he does in the classroom."When the student gets it," he said with a smile. "That’s my reward."

For more information about a career in microelectronics, call 503-614-7626.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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