The University of New Mexico International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) Student Chapter recently underwent a revitalization under its president, Mega Frost. Since then, the club has been working hard to develop outreach programs, welcome speakers from industry and research institutions, and promote the professional and academic development of its student members. The International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) is a professional organization focused on the advancement of light-based research for the betterment of the human condition.
This will be the chapter's first reboot in a few years, after suffering a decline in activity during the pandemic. In March 2023, SPIE elected its board, and many felt the need to restart the chapter after it had started gathering interest in December 2022. Frost, with the support of other students, was willing to head the club's revitalization when asked, and the UNM Optical Sciences and Engineering (OSE) department was supportive of the decision to reboot the club.
Frost's incentive is to make science accessible and engaging to those with little or no experience in the fields SPIE offers. Science was never something Frost considered at a young age. She was raised in a military family, went to a public school in Southern California with a high Latino population and a low math and literacy rate, where students were not all encouraged to pursue higher education, "Especially not into STEM fields," she laughed.
Inspired by her personal experience, Frost hopes that SPIE’s outreach efforts will promote the pursuit of higher education and careers in STEM as an option for people from similar backgrounds. SPIE is making special efforts to reach out to schools on the reservations in New Mexico and other underrepresented communities in science. She said she believes that SPIE, and STEM as a whole, benefit from diverse perspectives, including people who do not have engineers in their families.
"There are a number of goals we want to work towards within the chapter, and involvement to any degree is welcome," Frost said. SPIE is making special efforts to reach out to schools on the reservations in New Mexico, such as the Navajo Reservation, and to other underrepresented communities in science. Undergraduate, graduate students and even high school interns alike are allowed to pitch in. Their involvement is just as valued in the SPIE space, and there are no limitations on participation based on departments.
The focus on volunteering for SPIE is within the community, promoting anyone interested in pursuing optics, STEM, or SBIC. Volunteers can choose from many events, such as STEM outreach events, going directly to high schools or elementary schools, science fairs, or festivals around Albuquerque like the Lavender Festival or the Balloon Fiesta. SPIE's hopes to bring research speakers from other institutions, whether they are national labs or other universities, to give advice based on their experiences in the industry.
In addition to volunteering, there are also many professional benefits for students who chose to be a part of SPIE. The Student Chapter pays for all its members’ SPIE Student Memberships, which come with a free journal subscription, exclusive member scholarships and grants, and discounts on courses and conferences hosted by the national SPIE organization. Student members will also be able to tour local optics companies, attend workshops to develop members’ transitions from graduate students to working professionals, and even enjoy group hikes, monthly breakfasts, and other social events planned by the Student Chapter.
Frost emphasizes that SPIE is open to everyone, and everyone has the potential to shape what it does.
"The more involvement we get from our general student members, the better and healthier the chapter can grow," she said.
A variety of opportunities for student members to connect with the local Albuquerque community will be available, including participation in community-wide STEM outreach events, partnering with the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum, reaching out to local K-12 schools and more. In May, SPIE hosted a big event for the International Day of Light, a holiday that SPIE International celebrates in honor of the anniversary of the invention of the laser.
The SPIE plans more events like this in the future. Learn more on the chapter’s Instagram @unmspie.