Happy Birthday Marty Dvorin, Founding Professor of the Monroe Community College Optics Program!

Martin Dvorin is Professor emeritus of the Optical Systems Technology Program at a Community College.  He began teaching optics at Monroe Community College, on Alexander Street, in Rochester, NY in 1966.

We reprint here a recollection written for us by Marty in 2009, and edited just two months ago.

Happy Birthday Marty!

In the early 1960’s, the Optical Society of America, in a research effort “Optics – an Action Program”, under the direction of its president, Van Zandt Williams, determined that, from retiring and deaths, the United States was losing its optical technicians. Independently, Corwin Brumley, Vice President for R&D at Bausch and Lomb, I, and others around the coffee pot, came to the same conclusion. Optics was changing. We did not have the technicians with the skills needed for present and future projects. All this pointed to an impending national crisis.

One afternoon, in the summer of 1966, while I was working away in my ‘skunk works’ office at Bausch and Lomb, there was a knock on the partition opening that served as a door.

“Martin Dvorin?”  “ The same.  And you are?”  “Frank Milligan, assistant to the Vice President of Faculty at Monroe Community College. May I come in?”

How he was directed to me, I’ll never know, but Dr. Milligan came to ask me to take over the Optical Technology Program at M.C.C. At the time I was Technical Director of a large R&D contract which I could not leave until it was delivered, so we settled for my teaching nights, adjunct, at the ‘campus’, an abandoned high school in downtown Rochester, on Alexander Street.

That first evening, in September 1966, I faced 13 younger Marty Dvorins, when, in 1951, I started my own night school program which concluded a few months previous in the spring of 1966. Among the students present were (the late) Robert Novak and the late Harvey Pollicove. We had a cozy lecture hall, and high school Cenco lab equipment and maybe some from drug stores. We used photographic equipment from the Police Science Department. My shared desk sat in a “bull pen” office, which housed faculty from many departments. (also the late) Dr. Howard Smith of Eastman Kodak was the other part time faculty member.

In the spring of 1968, the B&L project delivered, I could take on full time duties at the College. Since my goal was to teach what would be useful to students in their work, I wanted lots of input from local companies which would hire them, so I visited several in the area and interviewed managers, to fill in a survey that included: equipment the graduates would use, skills they would need, and, most secret, how many would be hired in one, two and five years. The agreement was: information from any one company would be absolutely confidential, but the totals from all companies would be public knowledge. I took the results, and added in a little “technology forecasting” imagining what future developments there might be. All this went into the design of courses and recruiting plans. The advisory committee was pleased with what I presented. Also, I would actively recruit minorities, which in 1968 included women.

The first course in the new campus, a Survey of Optics, for the general public, was presented in the summer of 1968, The first (of my) full-time optics students entered in the fall of 1968, to unfinished facilities. “Blackboards” were corrugated cartons. One day, Dr. James Walsh (yes, deceased), V.P. Faculty, entered and stood quietly in the back of the room. I always invited any member of the faculty to sit in. I was lecturing by the light of my Coleman lantern. Jim had heard of this and wanted to observe it. I was a one-man department, and did a lot of improvisation and construction. Money was tight. Local companies contributed equipment and supplies, and I brought in my own darkroom stuff. Steve Avery (my first student of color) was the first student aide. When he saw me clamber up onto a darkroom counter: “Marty you’re pretty agile for an old guy”. I was forty-five years old- a real old guy!

One morning, Ouida Norris, Chair of Biomedical Engineering Technology, stormed into my sixth floor corner office and showed me a newspaper article saying that, because of financial conditions, the College was investigating canceling her and my programs. Now there were two storming people, barging into the office of Leroy Goode, the College President (yes, died). “Don’t worry, nothing is happening, yet’. Happily. nothing did.

Being a one man department was exhausting me, so I went to the Faculty office, and requested another person. Charles Ball, then in the Audiovisual Department, had expressed interest. But the assistant was adamant. I had in my pocket prepared a letter of resignation, which, until I retired, I always kept in my desk in the event I needed it. (I never did). I flashed it. The guy shrank back, like a vampire does from garlic. Then I went back to my office and called Theron Carter at Kodak.  “Ted, this is Marty. H-E-L-P!”, and hung up the telephone. Somehow, Charlie was transferred to the Optical Technology Department. Rochester industry has always been supportive of the Program. And still is, now in 2012.

Budget money did come in, and we bought better lab equipment from Ealing (I saw a lens bench I bought, in one of your pictures) and others. I called the late Alex Martens, a V.P. at B&L, my alma mater. “Alex, I need a spectrometer”. “Marty, I can’t give you a new one. They are expensive. But I’ll lend you a used one.” “When?” “Oh, I can use one in the next few days.”  Alex, bless him, had one in a raincoat pocket when he came into our lab. Kodak gave us the first lens polishers. 500 plastic containers came from a former employer in Kearney, New Jersey.

Students were coming in; graduates were getting hired. Bob Novak, A.A.S. graduate, having just received his B.S.degree from Arizona University, visited the department. The details are hazy, but Bob joined the department the next semester. Now we were three. And  Howie Smith, of course.

1971 was a watershed year. To widen the market for our graduates, during summers, my late wife Harriette and I motored to New England. We would camp in our 1969 Dodge Sportsman van at Salisbury Beach Park, Mass., and visit companies around Route 128. I signed many confidentiality agreements, saw a lot of ‘company secrets’. Recruiters came from Lawrence Livermore Labs in California, and hired many of our graduates. With four year engineering grads having trouble finding jobs, our story was in the newspapers and on local television. When Dennis Gabor won the Nobel Prize for Holography, Howie and I were invited to explain holography on a morning T.V. program.

The Rochester Section of the O.S.A. held meetings and pre-meeting dinners at the M.C.C. campus, and I was invited to be President of the Rochester O.S.A for the year 1972-1973. In the summer of 1973, Harriette and I drove the van around the U.S.A. and visited Colleges and companies to further expand coverage. Around the Los Angeles area, the S.P.I.E. housed us and arranged for visits to important installations. The Optics Survey went national.

We applied for a federal grant, and were awarded enough money to add, among other things, a Bridgeport milling machine and a Strasbaugh polisher. We hired other people from industry as adjuncts. With an Education Committee, we set up a pioneering transfer program so that graduates from M.C.C. could continue at the Rochester Institute of Technology or the University of Rochester, working towards a B.S.,  M.S., or a PhD degree.

Feature articles describing the optics program were published in Applied Optics and several other international journals. The Optical Engineering Technology program at Monroe had come of age. If not for that visit, I just might have gone over and applied for the job that was offered to me that day in 1966

……Martin Dvorin, Novato, California, October, 2009, rev 10/2014

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New York Photonics is a not-for-profit organization founded to promote and enhance the New York State optics, photonics and imaging industry by fostering the cooperation of business, academia and government.


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