For this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Anca Sala. Anca is currently professor and dean of the College of Engineering at Baker College in Michigan, USA, where she has introduced several new degree programs, including a program in photonics and laser technology for which she obtained support from the National Science Foundation. She was recognized as 2016 Educator of the Year by the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (Hi-TEC).
Anca’s area of expertise is integrated photonics and optical communications. As a research and development engineer in the telecom industry, she designed and developed high-performance DWDM components and modules that are described in several patents.
If your younger self was looking at your career now, what would she be most surprised by?
My younger self would be most surprised by my transition into an administrative role. I’ve always had a passion for teaching and I saw myself continuing as a professor for my entire career. Then the opportunity presented itself to consider the position of dean of engineering, and I decided to go for it. It’s a different role which made me develop in new ways so I think I made the right decision.
What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
The Optical Society conferences and meetings at local and national levels provide great opportunities for engagement and networking. In addition, with the emergence of social media, new connections can be formed almost daily. LinkedIn is a good example of the new ways to stay connected to professionals in the optics and photonics field. In my state there is also the Mi-Light Michigan Photonics Cluster, an organization that brings together professionals from industry and academia to promote and grow photonics in the state. I am a founding member and member of the board of directors for Mi-Light.
What is one question you had as a student/early professional that never seemed to be answered? Have you found the answer?
As a student, there are times when you feel a bit of uncertainty about your professional future. I had a very good idea about what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know if everything would come together to enable accomplishing all my goals. The answer I found is that if you are passionate about the field, there are always multiple opportunities and avenues to express your passion and bring important contributions.
What have you learned by being a mentor to students or colleagues?
Mentoring students and colleagues is very rewarding as it provides a conduit to share and transmit ideas and experiences to a younger generation. It’s very good to see students mature as they progress through their programs, and soon start their own successful careers. What I also find very valuable in mentoring is that I get to experience and understand the different perspectives students and colleagues bring, so there is great learning for me in it also.
What habits do you frequently rely on that help you to succeed?
Good organization, and anticipating and preparing for possible roadblocks are approaches that I found very helpful. Outside of work, meditation and tai chi help me relax and focus.
At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?
I look forward to continuing in my current role to create growth opportunities for faculty and students and strengthen collaborations with industry and various organizations. I also plan to continue teaching whenever possible and promoting the field of optics and photonics.
If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?
I would love to be a writer. I’ve always been an avid reader, enjoying many different types of books. I especially like thrillers and would love to be able to write some good ones.