Inaugural Subsea Optical Fiber Communications Summer School

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Photonics Spectra spoke with the OSA Foundation and Google about their recent partnership to prepare students for careers in subsea optical fiber communications.

Q: How did Google and the OSA Foundation come to collaborate on this program?

A: With data traffic via subsea optical fiber cable expected to double in three years, the OSA Foundation (OSAF) and Google decided to join forces to address the corresponding need for optics and photonics professionals to build and maintain these subsea networks.

The idea for the subsea school came in November 2018. OSA board member Ekaterina Golovchenko, of IPG Photonics USA, connected OSAF leadership with two Google employees: Mark Sokol, director of submarine infrastructure, and Valey Kamalov, staff network transport engineer. Those introductions developed into a shared vision to create a summer school focused on the undersea optical fiber network.
Logo for the OSAF/Google Subsea Optical Fiber Communications International Summer School. Courtesy of OSAF.

Logo for the OSAF/Google Subsea Optical Fiber Communications International Summer School. Courtesy of OSAF.

Kamalov’s vision was for a multidisciplinary international school focused on such things as marine and material engineering for subsea optical fiber cables, architecture, and management and deployment. As the organizations worked to define their goals, it was decided there should be at least 16 attendees from Africa and 25 women. Ultimately, 173 applications were received for 100 seats. The selection process was very competitive and led to the issuance of 108 acceptance letters, 25% for women.

In terms of funding, Google announced it would donate $100,000 toward underwriting the OSAF/Google inaugural school, as well as help solicit other corporate funding. OSAF is providing funding and staff resources, and OSAF executive director Chad Stark sees the subsea communications school as part of the foundation’s NextGen Institute.

NextGen Institute is a series of unique schools designed for training, skill building, and networking with The Optical Society’s (OSA) global contacts in the optics and photonics community, including renowned corporate leaders, researchers, engineers, and thought leaders.

The inaugural dates for the subsea school are scheduled for Aug. 4-10 in Finland and will be focused on inspiring and preparing graduate students and early career professionals for the challenges ahead.

Q: What is the current educational pipeline for people who want to work in fiber optic communication?

A: Students pursuing careers in fiber optics typically major in physics, engineering, or chemistry, and those focused on designing fiber optic components have at least an undergraduate degree, with knowledge of optics and materials. Many fiber optics technicians learn the trade in an apprenticeship program. Another option is a professional technical preparation course for students ready to attain the required certifications to become technicians.

Mentors in industry and academia also play a critical role in guiding students as they learn how to approach and solve problems and build careers. Mentorship programs are helping to attract students and early career professionals into the field. Kamalov said such attraction is noticeably lacking among young optical engineers, including those entering into submarine optics. Bruce Neilson-Watts of Global Marine Group said at SubOptic 2019 that one of the biggest threats to the industry is the continuing war on attracting and retaining talent. At the conference he explained that the emergence of exponential growth in offshore renewables has added a new adversary in the battle to attract the brightest people to our sector.

It’s been acknowledged that one of the industry’s biggest untapped resources is female engineering talent. Neilson-Watts said engagement needs to begin in schools, but equally important is the need to create environments and role models that will act as beacons to bright female engineers and technicians.

Q: Are there any plans to reach elementary and middle schools with these types of collaborative educational partnerships?

A: The Optical Society, along with SPIE and the IEEE Photonics Society, partners with the International Commission for Optics (ICO) to host the biennial Education and Training in Optics and Photonics (ETOP) conference. The first ETOP conference was held in 1988, and it is an international forum dedicated to the dissemination of information related to the teaching of optics and photonics. This conference aims to bring together leading optics and photonics educators from all levels to learn about new developments and approaches to teaching in these fields. The 2019 meeting was hosted by Université Laval in Québec City, May 21-24.

Additionally, the OSAF offers education outreach grants and hands-on experiment kits, such as the Optics Suitcase, to our global network of 370 student chapters.

Published: July 2019
subsea fiber opticsGoogleOSAFOptical Society of America FoundationOSAOSAF International Summer Schoolfiber communicationEducation Special Section

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