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Traveling the World from my Kitchen Chair: Experiences from a 2020 OSA Ambassador

Aura Higuera, 2020 OSA Ambassador, Synopsys Photonics Solutions

While many people around the world are trying to recover their “normal life”, other hundreds of millions are still suffering the peaks of the pandemic due to COVID-19 which has affected humanity in its entirety, and that includes me.

I am originally from Mexico and have resided in The Netherlands for about seven years now. I arrived in Europe when I was young and full of expectations at the age of 23. Little did I know, The Netherlands would become my home.

Now ten years and lots of experiences later, I am passionate about providing mentorship, helping and encouraging people like me ten years ago to follow and accomplish their dreams.

For that reason, I applied to become an OSA ambassador and  was granted that honor in 2020.

I was immediately drawn to the OSA ambassador program as it provided me the opportunity to meet and motivate students and young professionals around the world by joining and leading them through technical discussions, professional development webinars, identifying opportunities for increased diversity and inclusion, and more through OSA student chapter visits, conferences, and webinars. Given the current COVID-19 climate, the OSA Ambassadors were unable to travel. However, I am still able to “connect” virtually with student chapters in the Netherlands and in Mexico.

Given my background, Latin America is of geographical and personal interest for me. As such, I was excited about the opportunity to participate in the IONS OPUMA conference. During the IONS OPUMA, I was able to deliver a virtual plenary talk on the opportunities within Integrated Photonics technology, market and value chain, and design which is our main focus at Synopsys Photonic Solutions.  Participants were highly engaged and interactive. While I would have liked to shake hands and network in person with all those brilliant young professionals and students, given the circumstances, my experience could not have been better.

In my tenure as OSA Ambassador, I also participated in the 2020 OSA Advanced Photonics Congress held 13-16 July and enjoyed participating in the OIDA /OSA Foundation Professional Development & Networking Virtual Lunch and Learn, which fortunately were held in an all-virtual platform. Why fortunately? Well, transitioning a congress to an entirely virtual platform requires a lot of work and dedication and if it were not for the resilience and proactivity of OSA volunteers and staff, that would have not happened.

Finally, I have been able to connect and stay engaged with content relevant to the optics and photonics community through the We Are On virtual programming webinars.  The We Are On virtual webinars have allowed for the transition of typically face-to-face interactions into an all-virtual platform. This also opened an unprecedented opportunity to register and participate in several high-end conferences for FREE (many of which I would not be able to attend in-person either because of time or economic reasons).

These virtual opportunities have allowed for more interactions than when under “normal” circumstances. This is due to the notion that through virtual experiences, I am able to save hundreds of dollars on registrations and  attend conferences across the world with just a simple “click”. This luxury, by the way, is enabled by people like us working on integrated photonics and photonics in general. Photonics has just shown how enabling it is for this type of situation where all of a sudden, the internet (data, video streaming, audio, and virtual platforms) increased so dramatically. Itwould not have been possible to maintain worldwide communication throughout the world without the optics and photonics community. The scientists working on the next technology node of integrated photonics literally make the internet “faster” and supportive of the monstrous data transferring rates required in 2020.

2020 will be a year to remember in many aspects, for me and hopefully for you too.

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