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An OSA Ambassador’s Journey: How I became an OSA Ambassador

Mariia Pashchenko, 2017 OSA Ambassador, Czech Republic

My OSA journey started 10 years ago in 2007, when I first learned about The Optical Society. It was at a workshop when someone made an “About OSA” presentation for students at my University. While I cannot remember who the speaker was, I remember very clearly my feeling: It was like a breath of fresh air. The talk was about the numerous opportunities for students and student chapters and I thought that it didn’t seem too difficult to establish an OSA Student Chapter and make a change. I had the support of several people from different Institutes and we started our long journey.

After its first year, the Institute of Radiophysics and Electronics OSA Student Chapter won the Student Chapter Excellence Prize in 2008. While we had a few ups and downs, OSA showed me how it supports its student chapters through their program and grants. We’ve used the OSA Traveling Lecturer Program to invite many speakers, including Dr. Irving J. Bigio, for not only our student chapter but also for a special seminar at the Institute for Low Temperature Physics and Engineering. We have continued to utilize this program to bring renowned speakers from around the globe to this seminar. We’ve also had each lecturer speak about his or her experience with OSA since we have been awarded the Special Program Grant for this event as well. This not only showed our student chapter members and participants the lecturer’s technical background, but also their volunteer background within the organization. We have also sent a representative from our chapter to the Student Leadership Conference at FiO/LS every year. Each attendee has come back from the conference with a renewed spirit and fresh ideas. Finally, I have personally been able to attend an IONS at Stanford University in 2011 which was a great experience for me to network with other OSA student members.
While all of these benefits have been able to help me as an individual, our chapter also made sure to give back to the community. We applied for an Optics Suitcase to create Autriche activities to arouse interest in students about the simplest optical phenomena. It was fulfilling to see their surprised faces after each demonstration and exciting to hear the questions they had.

Unfortunately, after my PhD defense I had to move on from my student chapter and lose an important aspect of my life. I felt that being a part of the chapter gave me the professional development that would later help me down the line. As I was figuring out my next move, OSA introduced the Ambassador Program in 2016 and one of my close colleagues, Carlos Lopez-Mariscal, told me about his experience. After speaking with him, I thought “Why not? It’s a good chance to share my experience and help other student chapters”. In my experience, I saw how student chapters sunset very often, especially in developing countries. This was one of the many reasons why I decided to apply to OSA Ambassador Program.

Then my next chapter began…

The first step was creating a CV discussing my OSA involvement. It was while I was working on this that I remembered all the professional development experience I had while being a part of the chapter. My advice for anyone who is thinking about apply is to really sit down and think about everything you accomplished while a member of the chapter. You never realize the out-of-lab skills you accomplish like planning meetings or events, grant writing, as well as communicating with a number of people. It is also okay to not know what you want to accomplish as an OSA Ambassador, it certainly did not stop me from applying!

I am honored to be selected as a 2017 OSA Ambassador as I am working with eight talented professionals from all over the world – Australia, Brazil, India, USA, and Tunisia. We were able to all meet in Washington DC during the Winter Leadership meeting and I cannot believe I get to be apart of this inspiring group of people and play an active role in OSA. Now our task is to build our own goals and weave it into OSA’s mission to inspire.

Finally, one of the most excited things about attending Winter Leadership and becoming an Ambassador was to be at the headquarters meeting the people, who you e-mail with on a monthly (or weekly) basis, in real life. I was able to hear a motivating talk from the OSA President - Eric Mazur, as well as meet everyone who helps make OSA a great organization to be a member of. It is amazing to be part of this experience and take part in the brainstorms and discussions to see how OSA is truly a volunteer-lead organization!  
Thank you OSA, I’m proud to be a part of you!

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