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June 30, 2003
Volume 81, Number 26
CENEAR 81 26 pp. 36-38
ISSN 0009-2347


KEEPING CHEMISTRY ACCESSIBLE
Outside funding helps ACS's education team develop cutting-edge materials

AALOK MEHTA, C&EN WASHINGTON

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BOOKISH Just some of the resources that the Education & International Activities Division has developed to further chemistry education. PHOTO BY AALOK MEHTA


In 1983, Sylvia A. Ware, then manager of high school chemistry programs at the American Chemical Society, knew exactly where to turn when she came up with a plan to revolutionize how high school chemistry classes were taught. Drawing on her extensive experiences as both an educator and a research chemist, Ware took her ideas to the National Science Foundation, securing a grant for what would eventually become one of the ACS Education & International Activities Division's flagship products, "Chemistry in the Community," or ChemCom.

For Ware, it was just the start of a long tradition in securing outside funding for the division. Since 1987, when she took over as director, the Education & International Activities Division has received millions of dollars in grants from a number of institutions, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, the Exxon Educational Foundation, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, and the Sloan Foundation, as well as NSF.

"Our strength is that we are good at getting money from outside the society," she says. "A lot of the things we do, we could not have done if we didn't get competitive grants from elsewhere."

As its name implies, the division's mission is quite broad: It oversees professional training opportunities and programs; organizes ACS's continuing education activities, including Internet and short courses; and provides a number of international programs. But among its most recognizable contributions are cutting-edge materials for K–12 and undergraduate education. The division employs about 40 people directly and is overseen by the Society Committee on Education, though certain of its programs also fall under the aegis of the Project SEED Committee, the International Activities Committee, the Committee on Technician Activities, and the Committee on Professional Training.

FOR 2002, the division had an expense budget of $11.72 million for its activities and programs. But only $6.57 million of that came from ACS coffers. Self-sustaining programs, such as continuing education courses, provided the bulk of the rest, along with $930,000 in outside grants for sponsored programs. In 2003, ACS has allotted $5.87 million of ACS members' dues and other revenue to the division, which predicts $11.02 million in expenses and $620,000 in outside funding.

That money goes to a variety of uses. In addition to ChemCom and its sister textbook, "Chemistry in Context," the division is responsible for activities ranging from voluntary industry standards for chemistry technicians to undergraduate program approval to green chemistry education.

It's that combination of funding sources, quality of materials, and breadth of scope that makes the division one of ACS's best known and most respected.

"ACS is a good model," says Gerhard Salinger, program director in NSF's Division of Elementary, Secondary & Informal Education. "Having a research organization that has a very strong interest in science and chemistry education sends a very powerful message. It shows that research chemists and ACS have a strong interest in education, not just at the K–12 level, but also at four-year and community colleges.

"I think it's fair to say that the projects we have worked on with ACS have been among our most successful," he adds.

NSF has a long history of working with the division, starting with the grants that gave birth to ChemCom. What came out of that first partnership was an alternative to traditional high school chemistry textbooks. ChemCom focuses instead on using contemporary societal issues that deal with chemistry--for example, environmental issues--to teach the subject. Specific topics are brought up on a need-to-know basis.

Ware originally went to NSF with three different ideas about how to present high-school-level chemistry in a more intuitive form. The idea for ChemCom originated not only from her own personal experiences (she taught high school for three years in Sierra Leone and six additional years in the U.S. and had also worked as a bench chemist for ICI Pharmaceuticals in Chesire, England), but also from Scottish chemical educators, who "were developing interactive teaching packages that use chemistry as a basis for making decisions," she says. ChemCom used those Scottish courses as a template.

"The result is that students are exposed to a different slice of chemistry than in traditional chemistry courses," Ware says. "For example, there is less of a focus on physical chemistry and more organic, environmental, and biochemistry."

"ChemCom was really quite a departure," Salinger says. "It is not the only, or even necessarily the best, way to teach chemistry, but to show that it is an appropriate way [to teach chemistry] was an important statement.

"It's had quite an impact on the field," he adds. "It is innovative, it cut new ground, and it has been used in many schools. ChemCom is a model in a sense for us."


"We want to make chemistry accessible to all students, and we want to make it interesting to all students."


THE TEXTBOOK is now in its 4th edition, and a 5th edition is planned for the end of 2004 or the beginning of 2005. Ware estimates that the course has been taught to more than 2 million high school students--and that number is growing every year. Since ChemCom's development, ACS has continued to support the program, funding supplementary material--including workbooks, CD-ROMs, and transparencies--as well as revisions and subsequent editions, through sales of the book. That's just the kind of self-sustaining program that NSF hopes for, Salinger says.

The Education & International Activities Division built on its initial successes by securing NSF funding for a number of other programs. For example, FACETS (Foundations and Challenges To Encourage Technology-Based Science) is an integrated science program for middle school students that also takes a societal-issue-based approach to introducing students to science topics. Salinger says that, unfortunately, the program has yet to really distinguish itself from other middle school instructional materials.

He is more optimistic about the joint ACS-NSF forays into technician education. Science in a Technical World is a technical school preparatory program for high school students. It consists of 12 modules preparing students with the information and skills they will need for entering two-year technical degree programs and comes with supplementary CD-ROMs containing virtual workplaces, plant tours, assessment software, and practice tests.

The division has also developed voluntary industry standards for technicians in the chemical process industries and currently has grants to help build alliances between high schools and two-year colleges and local industry, as well as to develop a resource center for chemical technician education. It's a partner in a number of other lab technician programs, Salinger says.

The division has also been successful in securing funding from a number of different agencies. It is always developing new programs and seeking out sources of funding for them. "Outside money has given us freedom to do more and work with the very best of the outside community," Ware says. "The staff has good ideas, and they know how to write. We have a proven track record over the past 20 years, and the name ACS helps. It makes it easier for us to secure funding than some others. Success breeds success.

"So after we developed ChemCom, we thought it would be a great idea to write a text for the undergraduate community," she adds. This time, the seed money for the program came from Exxon's Educational Foundation.

"Chemistry in Context" is a college-level textbook organized in a format similar to ChemCom. The book is designed for use in one-semester courses for undergraduates not majoring in science. These kinds of courses typically have a far different cross-section of the student population than introductory science classes--participants are more likely to be upperclassmen, to have a social science background, and to have a higher reading level.

Like ChemCom, "Chemistry in Context" has been a huge success. It's the market leader, Ware says. It is also in its 4th edition (it is reprinted every three years instead of every five like ChemCom) and is self-sustaining.

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Ware PHOTO BY AALOK MEHTA

DESPITE THE SUCCESS of these two courses, the Education & International Activities Division still thinks there is a long way to go in improving chemistry education. So it is currently field-testing a third major textbook, "Chemistry," that is intended for introductory college chemistry courses. "This is a student-centered, activities-based, more interactive look at chemistry." Ware says. "It doesn't cover exactly all the same topics as traditional chemistry courses. It introduces large molecules earlier on, and it draws examples from the worlds of biology, geology, and physics. It's a broader view of introductory chemistry than is found in a traditional class." The project is being jointly funded by ACS and publisher W. H. Freeman.

"Chemistry" is being edited by Jerry A. Bell, the senior scientist in the Education & International Activities Division. Bell was formerly in charge of education programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has also served as a program officer at NSF. "Chemistry" is designed to work well with ChemCom--in fact, ChemCom is a suggested prerequisite for taking the new course.

The unusual design and format of the book is all a calculated gamble with undergraduate college departments, which are traditionally conservative and slow to incorporate novel teaching methods. "We're going to find out how it does," Ware says. "It is a different approach. There will be some people who like it and some people who don't. But what we have done is create a bracing new look at chemistry that combines what we know about how students learn chemistry with a fresh look at the chemistry it is important to learn."

The division is so well respected in the chemistry funding communities that it is sometimes sought out for its expertise. "They are well known in the education community," says Tracy Williamson, chief of the Industrial Chemistry Branch at EPA. "We had an existing relationship, and we knew that the resources for green chemistry education were present at ACS. So we approached them to do something larger and more formal."

EPA's formal collaboration with the division lasted from 1996 to 2002. Together, they gathered representatives from the education and green chemistry communities and asked what kind of materials they needed for green chemistry education. The answer: supplemental materials, case studies, laboratory experiments, and reference compendia, Williamson says.

The division came up with materials to address all these issues, including "Introduction to Green Chemistry," a supplemental instruction guide; "Real-World Cases in Green Chemistry"; "Greener Approaches to Undergraduate Chemistry Experiments"; green chemistry posters; and an annotated green chemistry bibliography.

"We think it went very well," Williamson says. "It was a very productive collaboration, with the right combination of resources. Part of what points to its success is that these materials are being widely used."

As with ChemCom, the external funding for the program is over, but the division has taken on the responsibility of marketing and developing new material.

Another program driven largely by external funding is Project SEED scholarships. The division administers the program, but funding has come from a number of sources, including NSF, the Department of Education, and individual contributors. Among the notable contributors are Alfred Bader, who alone has contributed $300,000, and the Campaign for Chemistry and an ACS matching gift fund that added $1.5 million.

The ACS Education & International Activities Division's ultimate goal is to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn the chemistry they need. It continues a number of programs to further this goal: instructional seminars for high school teachers using ChemCom and Science in a Technical World, midcareer professional development tools for teachers, short courses and Internet courses for midcareer chemists, and education surveys. It also administers the student affiliate program, including publication of the magazine inChemistry; oversees official ACS approval of undergraduate chemistry curricula; and publishes the "Directory of Graduate Research," a compendium of chemists and their research interests.

"Our general philosophy in terms of providing material is that we want to make chemistry accessible to all students, and we want to make it interesting to all students," Ware says. "We don't have to water down the material, but we do have to have a good understanding of their motivations for learning and how to keep them interested. And I believe that we have done that with our materials."


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Regional Meeting Abstracts Coming Soon From CAS


Within the next few weeks, ACS Regional Meeting abstracts will be available online from the Chemical Abstracts Service Division of the American Chemical Society.

"ACS national meeting abstracts have been covered by CAS for years," CAS Editorial Operations Director Matthew J. Toussant says. "But we recognize that the regional meetings also communicate a wealth of timely and relevant chemistry-related information. CAS customers will be happy to get fast and convenient access to these abstracts online, before they appear anywhere else."

Like other document records in the CAplus database, the regional meeting abstracts will be accessible through all of CAS's online search services, including STN, SciFinder, and SciFinder Scholar. Users of CAS services can retrieve the meeting abstracts by searching for a given author or topic, sometimes several weeks in advance of the meeting.


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New Guidelines For ACS-Approved Schools


The ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) has updated the guidelines used to evaluate and approve undergraduate chemistry programs.

The 2003 edition of "Undergraduate Professional Education in Chemistry: Guidelines and Evaluation Procedures" does not require any major changes to undergraduate chemistry programs. Rather, it updates and clarifies the guidelines.

Two changes address the needs of aspiring high school chemistry teachers:

  • The chemistry coursework requirements in the chemistry education option have been altered in recognition of the substantial coursework required for state certification for teaching.
  • A new program for approval of a minor in chemistry education has been added.

While the minimum number of faculty members for an approved program remains at four, the updated guidelines stress the advantage of having at least five faculty members to provide expertise in all chemistry subdisciplines, facilitate reasonable faculty teaching loads, and allow for sabbaticals.

The 500-laboratory-hour requirement applies to the chemistry degree and to all option degrees (except the new streamlined chemistry education option degree).

The guidelines point out that flexibility in the core for option degrees should not entirely eliminate a core lecture or laboratory experience but, for example, may be used to reduce two laboratory courses in one area to one course.

Comprehensive written research reports are required when undergraduate research is used to fulfill advanced course requirements. Oral, poster, and computer presentations do not meet this requirement, nor do published journal articles, even if an undergraduate student is a coauthor.

The document has been distributed to every chemistry faculty member at each ACS-approved institution and has been posted to the CPT website. Additional print copies may be requested from the Office of Professional Training by sending an e-mail to cpt@acs.org.


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ACS Dues To Be $120 In 2004


ACS membership dues are slated to increase from $116 (in 2003) to $120 (in 2004) as a result of council action this spring in New Orleans (C&EN, March 31, page 6). Also at the New Orleans meeting, the council approved a petition that was subsequently ratified by the membership to increase funding for divisions and local sections. The increased funding will come from budget offsets and a temporary assessment on ACS members. A fee of $2.00 will be levied in 2004. The fee will be assessed only on full members. It will be prorated for other special membership categories, and emeritus members will not pay anything.


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Pittcon 2004 Call For Papers


Pittcon 2004 will be held in Chicago, March 7–12, 2004. The program aims to showcase cutting-edge technology, innovative research, new products, novel analytical applications and methods, and recent developments in instrument design and laboratory management.

Abstracts (250 words) are invited for oral or poster presentations in all areas of analytical chemistry and applied spectroscopy. Abstracts should be submitted electronically using the electronic abstract submission form on the Pittsburgh Conference website: http://www.pittcon.org. The deadline for submission of abstracts is Aug. 1.

The final abstracts will be available on CD-ROM and in hard-copy format during the conference. The technical program will begin on March 7 and will continue through March 12. To complement the technical program, the conference will also sponsor a wide variety of valuable short courses beginning on March 6.


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Join The Education 'Chemunity'


Every two months, the ACS Education & International Activities Division releases the latest issue of Chemunity News, the electronic newsletter that connects chemistry educators with the education-related happenings at ACS. To have the latest chemical education information sent every other month, send an e-mail to ChemunityNews@acs.org.



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