From a young age, Dr. Yvette Mattley aspired to a profession in science, pursuing that dream to a doctorate in chemistry at the University of South Florida and a career in application engineering and product marketing at Ocean Optics.
Recently, Mattley had an opportunity to share her experiences as a scientist and conduct a spectroscopy workshop for young women at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) in Lillington, N.C., as part of the “Tech like a Girl” series originated by LASER-TEC. LASER-TEC is the Southeast Regional Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education, and was established by the National Science Foundation to encourage the development of qualified laser and fiber optics technicians.
Ocean Optics is a long-time supporter of science education and research, providing training, instrumentation and funding through its Innovations in Educational Spectroscopy grant program. In this account, Dr. Mattley discusses her trip to North Carolina and the reward of seeing young people excited about science.
I first learned of CCCC through Gary Beasley, the lead instructor for the college’s Laser and Photonics Technology program on the Lillington campus, whom I met at the 2017 Photonics West show in San Francisco. Gary’s enthusiasm and passion for his students and his program are infectious. The more we talked the more I realized that Mr. Beasley is one of those inspirational teachers you remember fondly as helping to shape you into the person you are today. His students are so lucky to have him.
Gary was very excited about the new Ocean Optics modular spectroscopy education kits. He even brought his wife and students back to our booth to see them. He wanted to purchase several kits for his teaching labs and outreach programs. His plan was to use the kits for a STEM workshop he was planning later in the year. He invited me to participate in the workshop and I jumped at the incredible opportunity to see our new kits in action. I accepted his invitation with no hesitation.
Over the next three months, an agenda came together. We would be working with middle school-aged girls, introducing them to spectroscopy and engaging them with some hands-on measurements using the new teaching kits. You can’t imagine how excited I was at the opportunity to inspire young girls by discussing with them my career and passion for photonics.
While at CCCC, I was also fortunate to share details about my career and applications in spectroscopy with the CCCC Laser Club SPIE/OSA Student Chapter. I was so impressed by all the questions and interactions from Mr. Beasley’s brilliant students.
The next day, I joined the Laser Club on a trip to the Duke University Free Electron Laser Laboratory. Accelerator Technician Maurice Pentico gave us an amazing tour of Duke’s storage ring-based free electron laser light source. Maurice gave us a great explanation of how the accelerator works and a detailed tour of the accelerator facility. Now it was my turn to be awestruck by the once in a lifetime opportunity to tour an accelerator.
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We held the “Tech Like a Girl” workshop the next day at the CCCC laser lab. Constance Boahn, CCCC Engineering and Information Technologies Department Chair, organized the workshop, which introduces young girls to careers in science and engineering. This was the first of a series of similar workshops for young women.
Nine girls, 8 to 15 years old, participated in the workshop, which focused on “Spectroscopy Using Photonics.” I shared my journey to become a Principal Applications Scientist and introduced the girls to spectroscopy. We discussed what rainbows and spectrometers have in common and some of the remarkable measurements you can make with light. Then the real fun began. We used the new modular spectroscopy kits to lead the students through some fun, hands-on labs including identifying the make-up of light sources from emission spectra and identifying unknown samples by comparing them to the absorption spectra of known samples.
The girls did an incredible job with the measurements and many of their parents stayed and participated as well. Seeing our modular spectroscopy products inspire young students and their parents is something I’ve never experienced before. It was incredible.
The CCCC Laser Club SPIE/OSA student chapter members helped with the workshop along with past, current and future CCCC students including Theresa Gietzen, a CCCC Laser and Photonics Technology graduate, now working in engineering at Phononic Devices in Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Evelyn Overton, current CCCC Computer Information Technology student; Henrietta Jutson, a Technology teacher at Jack Britt High School, an engineering academy in Fayetteville, N.C., who also serves on the CCCC laser program advisory committee; and Isabelle Karis, a current senior at Jack Britt High School, who plans on attending the CCCC laser program upon high school graduation. Not only did they support the workshop with their time, energy and knowledge but they provided great feedback on the kits and what we can do to make them even better.
Words cannot express the lasting impact of my visit to Lillington. I left feeling inspired, energized and excited about STEM outreach and what Ocean Optics can do to empower teachers. Inspiration didn’t just come from seeing our products in the hands of young girls making measurements of the emission coming from their cell phone screens and camera flashes but also from those who helped to make the workshop a success. Their dedication to STEM outreach and engaging students in science and technology are an inspiration and proof that the future for STEM is very bright.
The “Tech Like a Girl” workshop and equipment was funded through a grant from LASER-TEC, the Southeast Regional Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education, established by the National Science Foundation in 2013. The Center is hosted by Indian River State College (IRSC) at the Fort Pierce (Florida) Campus, and comprises community and state colleges, universities, high schools and technical centers, trade associations, and laser and fiber optic (LFO) companies. The mission of LASER-TEC is to develop a sustainable pipeline of qualified laser and fiber optics technicians to meet industry demand across the Southeastern U.S.