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SPIE becomes new endowed chair for College of Optical Sciences

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Grace Pierson and Grace Pierson | The Daily Wildcat Grace Pierson/ The Daily Wildcat The UA College of Optical Sciences has been celebrating its 50th anniversary since Feb. 4.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics technology, is the most recent organization to add its name to an endowed faculty chair position with the University of Arizona James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, rewarding the college with a $500,000 grant. 

“We are incredibly grateful to SPIE and to James C. Wyant for the opportunity they have given us,” said Thomas Koch, the dean of the College of Optical Sciences, in a press release

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Back in November 2018, James C. Wyant and his family’s $20 million gift established the Distinguished Endowed Chair Fund, which created 10 new faculty chairs. 

“Consequently, James made the offer that if a donor would make a $500,000 gift, they could actually name one of the chairs,” said Kaye Rowan, the senior director of development for the College of Optical Sciences. “SPIE obviously has a great interest in seeing the technology of optics and photonics continue to advance, so they believe that this would be an excellent opportunity to invest in an endowed chair to make certain a professor brings forward the technology for this generation.”

According to a news release published by the College of Optical Sciences, Kent Rochford, the CEO for SPIE, said that its endowed chair symbolizes the society’s mission to partner with researchers and educators in order to advance light-based research and technologies. 

“As a not-for-profit educational charity, SPIE is uniquely positioned to devote resources that create a larger pipeline of scientists and engineers knowledgeable about optics,” Rochford said in the news release. We are keenly aware of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences’ commitment to emerging new leaders in optics and are eager to support a faculty member who will teach future generations of leaders to excel.”

Since the SPIE grant met the challenge that came with Wyant’s gift, $1.5 million goes toward the SPIE endowed chair.

As a result, Rowan said that the SPIE endowed chair of optical sciences will have a $2 million dollar balance between the SPIE and Wyant Gifts.  

Both Rowan and Koch said that the College of Optical Sciences and SPIE has had a strong partnership for many decades and have various alumni and current faculty members involved with the society. 

“They hold two very important conferences every year that we go to,” Koch said. “Our faculty presents papers there and we learn from other researchers that attend from other universities. They have been a very important part of our activity in the college.”

Unlike other grants, the money donated is not dedicated to one specific research area; the College of Optical Sciences can use the money for any new program or research they want to grow. 

“The whole purpose of these endowed chairs is to not actually have them toward a specialized research interest,” Rowan said. “That way, we can be receptive to what new programs or new research that will be coming up now or in the future. There is no restriction on these endowed chairs, so it keeps it very broad and open in order to be receptive of what’s needed in the field.”

When it comes to deciding what to do with the grant, Koch and the rest of the faculty have numerous ideas and are figuring out what research they feel is important to expand on.

“Every year, we have an offsite faculty retreat where we try to plot our path into the future and figure out what are the important areas that we should be investing more deeply in,” Koch said. “Now we have the capability to really act on that. There was about a half dozen new areas that we really want to grow and get more deeply into and almost all of those areas are areas that SPIE are very active in.”

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In addition to the grant, the SPIE endowed chair allows the College of Optical Sciences the opportunity to evolve and get exciting new faculty members.

“It’s actually giving us a way to grow and expand the college,” Koch said. “So these are not just honorary titles that we are bestowing on existing faculty, these are creating entirely new faculty positions for the college.It really represents a way for us to expand the college and, in doing that, we get an opportunity to attract really good people and faculty.”

Koch welcomes SPIE with open arms and is excited to see how the college grows from the help of the endowed chair.

“It’s exciting,” Koch said. “We feel like we are a rocket-ship fueled up and ready to go; we just have to make sure we know where we are going.”


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