Students at the College of Optical Sciences have had a busy year; we hosted an IONS conference (a conference organized by students for students), a weeklong workshop in Chile over spring break and a large outreach event held in the college’s building in addition to normal yearly activities. Additionally, we also made an effort to include undergraduate students in SOCk (Student Optics Chapter), which was traditionally seen as a graduate student organization.
In the last year, SOCk made efforts not only to include undergraduate students but also to ensure they felt welcomed. Undergraduates do not participate in the College of Optical Science until their sophomore year. They are required to take general science and engineering classes with other engineering disciplines their first year through the College of Engineering. This makes it an arduous task to reach out to the freshmen class as they are so removed from the College of Optical Science. To try to bridge this gap, SOCk held an open house meet-and-greet for the freshman engineering students, whether declared as optical engineering or not, to provide them with the opportunity to learn about optics as well as conversing with current undergraduate students already in the optics program. To make certain that the undergraduates feel comfortable within the department as they begin their sophomore year, SOCk organized an orientation to give a tour of the building to highlight study areas and show some labs that they can potentially work in as undergraduate research assistants. SOCk sends representatives to the undergraduate classes in hopes to recruit students, however this has proved to be unsuccessful in past. This year, SOCk appointed senior undergraduate officers with the intent of reach out to other undergraduate students. These senior undergraduate officers fortunately embraced their roles and soon acted as mentors for the underclassmen.
The most successful effort to get undergraduates involved in SOCk was our Laser Fun Day event. This was an outreach event targeting students from
fourth grade to middle school consisting of optics-based demonstrations, an interactive laser maze and a treasure hunt in which participants were awarded an optics experiment kit as a prize. In planning this event, we asked the undergraduates to create new demonstrations and this was turned into a friendly competition between classes (sophomore, junior and senior). The classes squared off against each other with the sophomores, juniors and seniors bringing “Optics in Nature,” “Optics in Crime Scene Investigation” and Laser Maze to the table respectively. Laser Fun Day was so successful (with an estimated 1000+ visitors), that we are now planning on making it an annual event which we hope will help continue to get more undergraduates involved in SOCk in subsequent years. A key factor that allowed us to be successful in integrating undergrads into SOCk activities was bringing their professors into the loop. By including professors such as Lei-Lei Peng and SPIE President-elect Eustace Dereniak in our plans and receiving their gracious support, undergrads that built demos and participated in Laser Fun Day were able to get extra credit for their classes.
We further plan to continue reaching out to undergraduates by organizing talks focusing on resumes, what to expect in an interview, how to get an internship, and possible research opportunities. We have also discussed the possibility of having a graduate-undergraduate buddy system, sort of an informal mentor-mentee program that is aimed at allowing undergraduates access to knowledge and connections that many graduate students possess.