OSA Foundation seeks mentors/volunteers

WASHINGTON, DC-One of the many programs sponsored by the Optical Society of America Foundation (OSA Foundation) will provide optics resources to classrooms for an estimated 600-800 underprivileged, primarily minority students in 2006/2007 in the Washington, DC area.

WASHINGTON, DC-One of the many programs sponsored by the Optical Society of America Foundation (OSA Foundation) will provide optics resources to classrooms for an estimated 600-800 underprivileged, primarily minority students in 2006/2007 in the Washington, DC area. The Foundation is working to recruit 20 volunteers to serve as educators and mentors as part of its recently awarded grant to the Retired Scientists Engineers & Technicians (ReSET) program.

“We think there is an army of willing volunteers out there that can provide valuable services to charitable programs in optics-and we’re here to provide them with opportunities to make a lasting difference,” said Gary Bjorklund, chairman of the OSA Foundation.

In 2001, the OSA formed the OSA Foundation to specifically focus on programs that advance youth science education (see Laser Focus World, August 2006, “Working the Web” column), support optics and photonics students in developing countries, and provide education and resources to underserved populations. A 501-C-3 public charity, the OSA Foundation describes itself as a “vital” organization that depends on the financial support of corporations in optics/photonics and their employees to make an investment in developing future generations of optical scientists and engineers.

“The OSA Foundation was launched to provide funding for programs that wouldn’t normally gain much visibility within the OSA itself,” said OSA Foundation board member and treasurer Stephen Fantone. To date, the Foundation has raised $3.3 million and has funded more than 60 grant programs; the Foundation goal is to increase their endowment to $10 million by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the OSA. Fantone pointed out the added incentive of OSA matching funds: every dollar donated to the OSA Foundation is matched 100% by the OSA national organization, which also underwrites the Foundation’s administrative expenses.

The grant programs are a mixture of internal funding efforts-for example, increasing dollars allocated to the various OSA chapters for improving educational outreach to minority, female, and low-income students-and external grant programs, in which other charitable organizations like ReSET can make grant proposals to the OSA Foundation that are synergistic with their educational objectives.

OSA Foundation director Meredith Schipani and senior director Foundation and member services Grace Klonoski have all 120 staff members of the OSA at their disposal, as well as the Foundation board of directors and executive team, to assist with Foundation projects.

“We are excited to spread the word about the variety of programs underway at the OSA Foundation-programs that allow volunteers to go right into the classrooms of underserved student populations, and assist with lessons that include hands-on optics demonstrations,” Klonoski said. “One of our priorities is to provide young girls with access to our programs, and we are very enthusiastic about a grant program recently awarded to the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, which will actively market OSA’s optics classroom resources so that teachers can integrate optics and photonics into their science curricula and introduce girls to career opportunities in the field.”

“The OSA Foundation has really generated a surprising, inspiring response in our OSA members and in our contributing corporate members,” Bjorklund said. “Even OSA members of modest means are giving us $500 donations because they are seeing the value of optics and science education for our young people. The idea to put us in touch with ReSET, for example, came from an OSA member-the Foundation gives them an outlet to grow these relationships and charitable efforts. If some bright young student uses one of our OSA Foundation-funded telescopes and decides to go into a career in science or engineering, we’ve done our job.” -Gail Overton

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