The OSA Diversity & Inclusion Advocacy
2020 Recognition Honorees

Arti Agrawal, University of Technology Sydney, Australia; Jennifer Burris, Appalachian State University, United States; and the Department of Physics, St. Mary's College of Maryland, United States are Acknowledged for outstanding dedication and accomplishments, fostering greater appreciation, advancement and celebration of diversity and inclusivity in optics and photonics.


For an unwavering dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion throughout the global optics and photonics community.

Dr. Agrawal works to create global awareness, empowerment, and support for women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and underdeveloped and underrepresented communities in STEM. In coordination with the OSA Membership Engagement & Development Council, she helped organize workshops in developing countries to successfully increase the number of female OSA Senior members. As an OSA Board Member and chair of the Women in OSA Rapid Action Committee examining gender issues across OSA,  Dr. Agrawal encouraged real change by establishing key target metrics for nine different areas across the Society. She was also a member of a committee that assessed professional conduct at Society events which resulted in the updated OSA Anti-harassment Policy & Code of Conduct.

Dr. Agrawal credits advocates Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy for inspiring her efforts and her work with the Gay Women’s Network in London leading her to launch a group for queer women of color. Through her work at OSA and as the Associate Vice President of Diversity for the IEEE Photonics Society, she has been involved in the establishment of programs intended to increase participation of women and minority groups in STEM across the globe including the Women in Photonics workshops and the Pride in Photonics workshop at CLEO. She is also a champion at her own institution working with the Women in Engineering & IT at the University of Technology Sydney.


For facilitating systemic changes that have improved diversity and inclusion for her department, university and community.

Dr. Burris is the first woman Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University.  One of her first accomplishments was to create a student inclusiveness advisory committee that evolved into the Student Inclusive Excellence in STEM club working to actively promote diversity and inclusion across all STEM departments at the University. Located in western North Carolina, about 34% of the 20,000 students at Appalachian are first-generation college students, Dr. Burris has worked to enhance her own understanding of diversity and inclusion to be able to create and implement initiatives and professional development opportunities that would have long lasting change for the faculty, staff and students.

Dr. Burris has worked to both increase the number of underrepresented populations within the department of Physics and Astronomy, to create a supportive environment for students, and through securing funds for programmatic and systemic change. Donation funds have helped create a food pantry. Dr. Burris has facilitated required training in bias and inclusivity for faculty and staff. She has also demonstrated a similar commitment in hiring staff and faculty from underrepresented populations. She has procured funding for creating and promoting diversity and inclusion on campus including a new million dollar NSF ADVANCE grant to expand this work across all STEM departments with trainings of administrators, chairs, and faculty, expanded professional development and mentoring and improving work-life integration resources and advocacy across campus.  At a state level, she has been an advisory board member of the statewide BRIDGES Academic Leadership Program for Women and helped to reestablish the NC ACE Women’s Network to support all women in high education in North Carolina.


For making long-term changes that improve diversity, equity and inclusion in its operations and culture.

Since hiring its first female faculty member in 2008, the Department of Physics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland achieved gender parity in 2019.  The Department’s dedication to diversity also extends to the student population whose gender ratio exceeds the U.S. national ratio in physics. This is due in part to the Emerging Scholars Program (ESP). With funding from an NSF S-STEM grant, the ESP identifies students from underrepresented groups in their first semester of physics offering enrichment along with mentoring and access to a supportive peer group. In the program’s first 3 years, 93% of ESP participants persisted to the second semester course, compared to 76% of non-ESP students.

As described in Physics Today, the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Department of Physics, proactively fosters a culture of inclusivity. Physics faculty work with other faculty from the College's Educational Studies program to introduce required diversity and inclusion workshops into first-year physics courses. As part of the APS Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Alliance, faculty have jointly enacted a policy to include work on inclusion, diversity and equity in every one of its courses. They reinforce this through start-of-the-semester values-affirmation exercises for students and share research demonstrating how they can help combat stereotype threat. They have revamped courses to ensure the contributions in the physics and astronomy of members of underrepresented groups are included in discussions and faculty members structure group work and continuously monitor it to promote inclusive behaviors and to stop behaviors that run counter to inclusion.