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ACS News

October 30, 2006
Volume 84, Number 44
pp. 49-51

Not Your Average Chemistry Club

ACS student affiliate groups offer benefits beyond the classroom, as outstanding chapters prove

Linda Wang

Emmanuela Ohaeri started college as a prepharmacy major, but after joining the American Chemical Society student affiliate chapter at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich., and attending her first ACS national meeting, she decided to change her major to chemistry.

Alexandra Foguth/Lander University
Service Lander University student affiliates participate in a Habitat for Humanity project.

"Being part of the group introduced me to other options," she said. "I saw the field of chemistry as something I could definitely get into." Ohaeri, now a senior, received an associate's degree in industrial chemistry technology and is currently working toward a bachelor's degree in chemistry.

Like Ohaeri, many science students are finding that joining an ACS student affiliate chapter can yield benefits beyond the classroom. These groups provide camaraderie, professional development, and an opportunity to develop leadership skills.

ACS has approximately 980 student affiliate chapters around the U.S. Of these, about 20% are recognized by ACS each year as being outstanding, commendable, or deserving honorable mention.

The chapters are evaluated on community service; participation in National Chemistry Week, Mole Day, and Earth Day activities; attendance at scientific meetings; communication with chapter members and promotion of events; service to their department or college; organization of speakers, tours, and field trips; participation in green chemistry activities; and fund-raising efforts.

It's not enough to have successful programs and a variety of activities. "If you don't document it, it's almost as if you didn't do it," says Pasquale Di Raddo, who is the faculty adviser for Ferris State's student affiliate chapter. Chapters are asked to submit lengthy annual reports at the end of each school year.

For the 2005-06 academic year, ACS has recognized 34 chapters as outstanding; 58, commendable; and 75, honorable mention. The awards will be presented at the 2007 spring national meeting in Chicago. C&EN profiles five of the outstanding chapters here.

Northeast Texas Community College's student affiliate chapter exemplifies how perseverance can pay off. Four years ago, the chapter had a mere $250 in its bank account, much of it raised by collecting and selling aluminum cans.

"We were dying," says chemistry professor James K. Archer, who has served as the group's faculty adviser since the group became an ACS affiliate seven years ago. "We were going out with our hat in hand, begging money from people.

"We finally realized we had all this talent. Student affiliate groups need to realize that they're sitting on a real gold mine of talent," Archer continues. "Students are an enormous resource, and they've got all this energy, so you might as well tap into it."

Today, the student affiliate chapter has roughly $10,000 in its bank account; its biggest revenue generator is its chemistry road shows. Those alone bring in about $25,000 a year in state funding. Students working the road shows travel to nearby elementary and high schools where they give chemistry demonstrations to the kids.

"We get a lot of help and support from the community, and this is our way of giving back to the community," says Darryl Encino, who was treasurer of the chapter last year and is now a junior at Texas A&M University, Commerce.

View Enlarged Image
Road Show Archer (left) and student affiliates from Northeast Texas Community College stand in front of their road show trailer.

What a difference a few years can make. In spring 2003, the chapter attended its first national meeting, and Archer recalls himself, his wife, and eight students piling into a van and driving eight hours to New Orleans. "We weren't able to take anybody out to nice places to eat," he says.

This past spring, however, the chapter had raised enough money to take five students to the national meeting in Atlanta, dine at several nice restaurants, and tour the relatively pricey Georgia Aquarium. Archer says he hopes to take at least five students to the Chicago national meeting next spring. Archer continues to seek funding opportunities and believes that their chapter will only grow. "Success begets more success," he says.

Being one of the oldest Catholic universities in the country, Xavier University's strength lies in its deep commitment to the community of New Orleans.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, members of Xavier's student affiliate chapter wasted no time in offering their help. Mike Adams, the chapter's faculty adviser, arrived at the Houston Astrodome, to which many hurricane survivors had been evacuated, and, seeing how many children were there, got right to work on a nationwide toy drive.

"The Xavier community really promotes service to society," says Tony Davis, a senior majoring in biochemistry and president of the chapter. "Our members work hard, and they go the extra mile to make sure that things happen."

When the university reopened in January, the chemistry club met and began planning events to clean up the city. With the theme "A Year of Service from the ACS Chemistry Club Back to N'Awlins" and a reinvigorated spirit, members of the chemistry club helped clear debris and pick up trash left by Katrina. The students also participated in a Katrina walk to raise money for hurricane victims and got involved in a Habitat for Humanity project.

Davis says something good came out of Katrina. "It redirected our goals and redirected our focus for the better," he says, pointing out that before Katrina, they had begun to lose sight of their goals. "But seeing the impact that your service has on people, at the end of the day, makes it more meaningful."

Participation in the chapter has stayed strong, and the first meeting this year drew about 90 students. "The fact that we still have the numbers is evidence of our success," Davis says. "It's really amazing how from year to year, it just gets better."

The University of Toledo's student affiliate chapter has been to eight consecutive ACS national meetings. In fact, C&EN caught up with chapter members—all happened to be women—at the fall national meeting in San Francisco.

Julie Mosher, adviser to the group, says it was coincidental that all six of the students who were there with her were women, but she admits that women do make up more than half the chapter.

Tiffany Waller, president of the chapter and a senior majoring in chemistry, says chemistry can often feel like a boys' club, and she appreciates that the chapter offers an inviting atmosphere for women.

Mosher stressed the importance of attending national meetings. "The more national meetings the students attend, the more comfortable they are with it," she says, adding that meetings are a great way to network and learn about the society.

Waller says she was intimidated when she attended her first national meeting in Atlanta, but felt much more comfortable in San Francisco. She even presented a poster and talked with graduate school recruiters. "The difference is amazing," she says of her confidence level.

Mosher says what makes their chapter so successful is the balance of activities that they've struck. Last year, the students hosted a chemistry camp for high school students, collected food and clothing for Katrina victims, and performed chemistry demonstrations for kids at local schools.

Laura Callow, chapter secretary and a sophomore majoring in pharmacy, points out that students don't need to be chemistry majors to join the group. "You just have to love chemistry," she says.

Ferris State's student affiliate chapter is a diverse group, made up of chemistry majors as well as prepharmacy and preoptometry students.

"It's an advantage to be introduced to students who are of different majors than you, so you can talk with them about why they're pursuing a certain discipline," says Ohaeri, who is now president of the chapter. "The diversity of the group enhances your experience, and you meet different kinds of people, not just people in your major."

Last year, several members of the chapter attended the International Auto Show in Detroit to learn about hydrogen-powered vehicles. The chapter also designed a website with resources on green chemistry and incorporated green chemistry techniques into organic chemistry labs. In addition, they organized various Earth Day activities, including demonstrations on the chemistry of water at a local charter school and helping children plant seedlings. These activities have earned the group a green chapter award.

Linda Wang/C&EN
Girl Power Mosher (left) and student affiliates from the University of Toledo attended the fall national meeting in San Francisco.

Erica Touhill, who was president of the chapter last year and is now a first-year optometry student at Ferris State, says she worked hard to beef up the chapter's green chemistry activities after learning that they had not achieved green status the previous year. She says getting feedback from ACS's review of their annual report helps the chapter identify areas where they can improve.

The chapter also makes it a point to explain the chemistry behind their activities, particularly the ones that don't have an obvious chemistry connection. For example, at a Habitat for Humanity volunteer event, they displayed a poster explaining the chemistry of asbestos.

Di Raddo, who advises the chapter, says students who work together in the club work better together in the classroom. "So much of science studying is solitary," he says. "This club forces them to work together and to interact."

Ohaeri agrees. "Participating in the events, you pick up skills that you just can't learn in the classroom. You pick up skills that you can use throughout your lifetime."

Being at a school with fewer than 3,000 undergraduates has turned into a big advantage for the student affiliate chapter of Lander University, Greenwood, S.C. "It's easier to organize things when you have a close-knit group of students," says Alexandra Foguth, a senior majoring in chemistry and president of the chapter.

In fact, nearly all of Lander's chemistry majors participate in the chapter, which has between 60 and 70 members. Officers of the chapter visit freshman chemistry classes at the beginning of the year to talk about the benefits of joining the group, which can range from the feel-good effects of doing community service to receiving mentoring on course work.

"The freshmen are the hardest ones to get involved," says Ralph C. Layland, who serves as faculty adviser for the chapter. "We have to almost bribe them with social events." For example, the group organizes potluck lunches at which freshmen and members of the chemistry faculty can interact outside the classroom.

Layland points out that National Chemistry Week activities always attract many freshmen. Last October, members of the group held a contest to design the chapter T-shirt; organized a faculty appreciation day; and performed chemistry demonstrations for students, faculty, and the public.

Foguth says the key to maintaining the chapter's momentum is coming up with new activities. And the focus of each year, whether it's community service, social activities, or professional development, depends on what their members want. "We try to keep it lighthearted and fun, because we realize that we're college students first," she says.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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