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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Diversity and Inclusion Advocate

By Dave Larsen

The Optical Society will honor University of Dayton physicist Jay Mathews with its 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Recognition award for encouraging and fostering diversity, and providing opportunities for underserved students in the field of optics and photonics.

Mathews, associate professor in the Department of Physics, will be recognized Monday, Sept. 16, at the Optical Society’s Frontiers in Optics and Laser Science awards ceremony at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, D.C.

“Dr. Mathews' work with minority-serving institutions to provide summer research experience for undergraduates and his commitment to mentoring women, Latinxs, African Americans, and members of the LGBTQ community embodies the goals of this recognition,” said the Optical Society in a statement.

Since joining the University faculty in August 2013, Mathews has forged relationships with institutions that include Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, and St. Mary’s University, a Catholic, Marianist institution in San Antonio. Since 2017, he has brought nearly a dozen undergraduate students from those historically black and Hispanic schools to Dayton to conduct full-time, faculty-mentored summer research in his laboratory.

He also has worked to staff his research group by including women and underrepresented students at the University of Dayton who have the potential to do research, but who might not otherwise seek out such opportunities.

In addition, Mathews and associate professor of physics Imad Agha recruited Morehouse student Joshua Burrow to the University’s electro-optics graduate program. Burrow served as University student chapter president of the Optical Society from 2016 to 2018. In March, he was awarded a $25,000 Ford Foundation fellowship to support the final year of his doctoral dissertation writing and defense.

“As an African American student pursuing a Ph.D. in optics, I can truly attest to Dr. Mathews’ genuine concern for inclusion,” Burrow wrote in his nomination letter. “On a day-to-day basis, we often discuss potential initiatives, but more importantly, Jay brings the ideas to fruition by consistently seeking internal and external support. His efforts have resulted in a number of successful ventures, including establishing long-term programs that will have an impact for years to come.”

Mathews said the Optical Society (OSA) recognition is among the most important milestones of his life. The nomination package included testimonials from students who have worked in his lab or participated in his Physics Summer Research Experience program. Reading their tributes moved him to tears.

“It has made me really appreciate my job and my career and the opportunity that I have to shape young lives here at UD,” Mathews said. “I feel like I’ve actually had a positive effect on some people’s lives and that to me is the best thing that I can possibly imagine.”

The Optical Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Recognition was established in 2018 to acknowledge the dedication and accomplishments of OSA members, companies and organizations that demonstrate efforts to foster greater appreciation, advancement and celebration of diversity and inclusivity. This year’s recipients also include the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Mathews appreciates the growing awareness for diversity and inclusion work, which hasn’t always been recognized in the past.

“This is something that is becoming more and more important, not just in academia, but also in industry,” he said. “Starting to recognize individuals who are making these kinds of efforts is really important if we are going to move forward in this area.”

Mathews is expanding his efforts this year by establishing a prototype bridge program to provide graduate education opportunities to students from underrepresented groups. Brandon Hilton, a recent Morehouse graduate, started this fall in the University’s electro-optics master’s degree program.

In addition, Mathews formalized his summer research experience with metrics and student assessments, in hopes of expanding it into an externally funded program.

“We like to expand it beyond physics and electro-optics to maybe involve students from the other sciences and engineering,” he said. “Then we’d like to involve more historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.”

For more information, please visit the Department of Physics website.


Optical Society 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Recognition Award

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