SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Youth education funding needed in good and bad times

Feb. 25, 2009
Student needs steadily grow in breadth and depth over time. Given increasing demand and today's lean economic times, it is especially important that organizations continue their support of education outreach efforts.


As we well know, while global markets experience times of high and low demand, this is not the case with youth education. Student needs don't ebb and flow from one generation to the next. In fact, they steadily grow in breadth and depth over time. Given this increasing demand and today's lean economic times, it is especially important that organizations continue their support of education outreach efforts.

The OSA Foundation (OSAF) is dedicated to substantial, ongoing support to those providing science and math education at the grassroots level. Each year, the OSAF awards education-focused grant funding to the Optical Society's (OSA) Student Chapters and Local Sections. The stories below demonstrate how even modest amounts of funding can have a major influence on students and their local communities.

The Norfolk State University Chapter of the OSA located in Norfolk, VA, used a creative approach to reach out to 75 minority and female middle and high school students. Presenters demonstrated the making of liquid nitrogen ice cream and presented an Internal Refraction experiment. Materials, which included such nontraditional components as whipping cream, sugar, Oreo cookies, and M&M candies, cost less than $300. "The students were excited not only by the ice cream that was made, but also by the science," said Tracee Weaver, the NSU Chapter contact. The program was a component of the NSU SPARK Outreach project, which is designed to expose young audiences to science and technology, especially optics, and to get them involved in science-related activities. Through hands-on and visual activities, students get the opportunity to experience science, technology and optics first hand.

The Stanford University Chapter of the OSAused a $1,000 grant to sponsor a series of "Collaborative Events with Bay Area Chapters" during 2008. They kicked off the year with a "Girls Go Tech" outreach event targeted at K-12 girls interested in optics. The event was organized by the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), which formed a multiyear partnership with the OSA Foundation to collaborate in educating middle and high school girls about optics and photonics. Approximately 100 girls participated, and the outreach was greatly expanded by posting a video on fluorescence on YouTube. "In hindsight, we should have recorded more YouTube clips," said Meredith Lee, chapter president. "The one we created has had great feedback. We've also had very positive feedback from parents and troop leaders, who wanted to be sure that we would continue the event in future years."

Other Stanford Chapter events throughout the year included the second annual "Photonics@Berkeley" trip, organized in collaboration with the PhotoBears, the Berkeley Student Chapter of OSA and SPIE. Participants received a special guided tour of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Molecular Foundry and learned how they could gain access to it for their own research. The chapter also sponsored the 2008 Photo Contest. Prizes were donated and judges included a Nobel Laureate and several well-known photographers.

The Cork Student Chapter of the OSA established in 2006 by post-graduate research students of Tyndall National InstituteCork Institute of Technology and University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, organized an event entitled "What has Optics Ever Done for Us?" The event was planned to coincide with Science Week, an initiative in Ireland to promote interest in science and technology. "What has Optics Ever Done for Us?" was designed as an interactive workshop aimed directly at secondary school students who were approaching the conclusion of their studies. Two 90-minute sessions involving almost 80 students included a slide-show presentation and a few optics-related games, including one in which volunteers were required to demonstrate how a laser works. "This was the first of what we hope will become an annual event," said John Cuffe, Chapter spokesperson. "The students seemed really interested -- to be honest, even more than we thought they would! Teachers were also very impressed, and they were very open to the idea of future school visits to demonstrate more experiments and explain more about optics."

The OSAF provides support to OSA's Student Chapters and Local Sections in the form of grants of up to $1,000 USD for grassroots education efforts. Funded programs focus on local educators, parents and students with the objective of sharing information and generating excitement about science.

The OSA Foundation, created in 2002, is dedicated to supporting programs that advance youth science education, provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources, and support awards and honors that recognize technical and business excellence. Contributions to the foundation, a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, are deductible as provided by law. All donors receive special recognition and acknowledgments, unless they request to be anonymous. Donations to the OSA Foundation are matched dollar-for-dollar by the Optical Society. For more information, please contact the OSA Foundation staff via telephone: +1.202.416.1421 or e-mail: [email protected].

Grace Klonoski is the senior director, foundation, membership & education services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; email: [email protected];

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