In 1929, a grant from Eastman Kodak and Bausch and Lomb established The Institute of
Optics as the nation's first academic institution devoted to training optical scientists and engineers.
The mission was 'to study light in all its phases', and the curriculum was designed to educate
students in the fundamentals of optical science and build essential skills in applied optics and
optical engineering. Indeed, our historic strength has been a balance between optical science and
engineering--we have alumni who are carrying out prize-winning research in optical physics,
alumni who are innovative optical engineers, and still other alumni who are leaders in the business
community. Faculty who are top-notch optical engineers are an important resource to optical
physics research groups -- likewise, teaching and modeling excellent optical science provides a
strong underpinning for students on the applied/engineering end of the spectrum.
This model -an undergraduate and graduate program that balances fundamental optics,
applied optics, and optical engineering- has served us well. The impressive and diverse range of
opportunities for our BS graduates has withstood economic cycles, and the students graduate with a
healthy dose of practical experience. Undergraduate advisors, with considerable initiative from the
program coordinator, are very aggressive in pointing students toward summer research and
engineering opportunities. The vast majority of our undergraduate students graduate with at least
one summer of experience in a company or a research laboratory. For example, 95% of the class
of 2008 spent the summer of 2007 at companies and/or research laboratories: These include Zygo,
NRL, Bausch and Lomb, The University of Rochester(The Institute of Optics, Medical Center, and
Laboratory for Laser Energetics), QED, ARL Night Vision laboratories, JPL, Kollsman, OptiMax,
Northrup Grumman, and at least two other companies. It is an impressive list, and bodes well for
the career preparation for these students.
While this extracurricular experience is truly world-class, an integrated design experience
defined within our academic program is increasingly necessary for those going on to professional
careers in engineering. This paper describes the philosophy behind a revision to our undergraduate
curriculum that integrates a design experience and describes the engineering laboratory that has
been established to make it a reality. The laboratory and design center has been named in honor of
Robert E. Hopkins, former director and professor, co-founder of Tropel corporation, and a lifelong
devotee to engineering innovation.