Outstanding Collegiate Member

Kathleen Oolman

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

For significant contributions to quantum optics research; for transformative leadership within SWE and multiple STEM organizations; and for sharing her gifts as both teacher and mentor.

Kathleen Oolman is a Ph.D. candidate in physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Her research lies in the interdisciplinary fields of physics, materials science and engineering, and electrical engineering, focusing on light-matter interactions in complex materials. Currently, she works in quantum optics, researching single-photon sources in on-chip semiconductor waveguides and quantum imaging of biomolecules. Oolman earned B.S. degrees in physics and mathematics with a chemistry minor at the University of Wyoming in 2017 and was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2019.

While studying for her graduate degree, Oolman joined the Society of Women Engineers at UIUC to connect with female graduate students outside her department. In the six years that followed, she served in many organizational and leadership positions, most recently as director of UIUC GradSWE. In this role, she led a team of 20 graduate student committee members to organize professional development and social events and consistently supported the community through outreach events and mentoring programs.

In addition to ensuring the committee runs smoothly, Oolman collaborates with campuswide diversity programs and departmental administrations to discuss challenges specific to the graduate student experience. Her efforts have gained campuswide exposure and support for UIUC GradSWE. Her collaborative leadership style also led to an increase in UIUC GradSWE event participation from both engineering and non-engineering STEM departments.

Previously, Oolman served as UIUC GradSWE’s Women Empowered in STEM (weSTEM) conference director in 2021-2022. She managed a team of 11 graduate students who planned and executed the conference while spearheading an effort to increase student attendees from outside the university. Under her leadership, an in-person conference took place with roughly 100 students and 21 speakers. She also served as UIUC GradSWE funding co-coordinator — raising more than $20,000 for the organization — as well as weSTEM speaker coordinator and weSTEM publicity coordinator, creating a new website and promotional material.

Oolman’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) extends beyond SWE to many leadership roles on campus. She played an integral role in planning Allies in STEM, a workshop series for graduate STEM students to develop their skills and become lifelong allies for traditionally underrepresented students in STEM. She planned outreach events for the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Student Leadership Council. With two other students, Oolman started an award for graduate students recognizing exceptional contributions to outreach, service, or DEI efforts in the physics department.

Throughout her studies, Oolman has mentored younger peers. For two summers, she mentored an undergraduate student in research, designing experiments, teaching laboratory techniques, and assisting students in communicating results. She mentored two additional students through the Illinois Guidance for Physics Students Program and Parkland Science Scholars.

Oolman is an avid rock climber and spends as much time as possible outdoors with her husband.