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ACS News

July 24, 2006
Volume 84, Number 30
p. 40


The Power Of Partnerships

John H. Engelman, Chair, Committee On Technician Affairs

What was the last thing you truly accomplished on your own? Think hard. The project you just started uses funding someone else provided. That data you just analyzed was collected by a technician on someone else's equipment. That paper you just wrote was about a project you did with another researcher.

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If you suspect the last thing you truly did on your own was brushing your teeth this morning, then you realize the importance of partnerships. Partnerships are the key to most accomplishments in modern chemistry.

When most researchers think of partnerships, they think of collaboration with other researchers. These collaborations are usually short-term pairings, lasting just long enough to write a few papers or submit a patent application.

The partnerships to which I refer are long-term groupings that last for years or even decades. Industrial working groups of researchers and technicians are partnerships. Academic research groups of graduate students, postdocs, and a professor can be partnerships. ACS local sections, made up of people with a passion for chemistry, are partnerships.

Partnerships can often involve institutions. Across the country, representatives from local industry, government, community, high schools, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges have formed alliances.

Working together, alliances craft and maintain educational programs that prepare the upcoming chemical technology workforce to meet industry needs. They also make sure that educational programs have the resources to prepare their students. Alliances take complete, shared responsibility for the education and career development of the students as they grow into employees. In fact, alliances are so useful that a two-year chemical technology program must have one in order to obtain approval from the ACS Chemical Technology Program Approval Service.

Like most partnerships, alliances are win-win situations. They allow industry to give direct input into the training of its future employees. Schools get resources they need for education. Students have opportunities for upward matriculation, internships, and employment.

Of course, maintaining these alliances requires a lot of effort. The rewards and challenges will be discussed on Aug. 3 at "Partnering To Prepare the 2015 Chemical Technology Workforce," a symposium at the 19th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, at Purdue University (www.chem.purdue.edu/bcce).

The alliances I have mentioned focus on the education of chemical technicians. Why should we take such an interest in chemical technicians? Are not technicians just eyes and ears in the lab, a set of hands to do the work of the "real" chemists?

Partnershipsare the keys to the future of chemical technicians, chemical education, the chemical industry, and ACS.

I will admit that, being a technician, I am somewhat biased. But the fact of the matter is that technicians have become true partners in the modern chemical industry. Technicians are being given increasingly more responsibility, as well as more recognition for their work (C&EN, Nov. 7, 2005, page 49).

Technicians also make great partners for ACS. They tend to be active at the local level and provide programming for both regional and national meetings. Some local sections even have Technician Affiliate Groups (TAGs), which organize special events for the community.

Yet only about 500 ACS members are members of the Division of Chemical Technicians (TECH). Compare this number with the total number of ACS members (more than 158,000) and the number of chemical technicians in the U.S. (roughly 62,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and it becomes obvious that technicians are a barely tapped resource for ACS.

So, developing partnerships with technicians, both as professionals and as volunteers, is in everyone's best interest. But where do you start?

The Committee on Technician Affairs (CTA) is starting with the symposium "Equipping the 2015 Chemical Technology Workforce." This truly collaborative effort—organized by CTA, TECH, the Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs, ChemTechLinks, and CEN-Chemjobs—will be a presidential event at the ACS fall 2006 national meeting in San Francisco. The event will be sponsored by TECH and cosponsored by 12 other ACS units.

The presidential event is designed to encourage attendees to initiate education and career development programs at the local level. These programs are intended both to encourage technicians to join and participate in ACS and to support the development of technicians as chemical professionals. Mentors will be available to help attendees make the most of the national meeting and, later, develop the partnerships they need to create and maintain their programs. For more information, visit www.ChemTechLinks.org.

Partnerships are the keys to the future of chemical technicians, chemical education, the chemical industry, and ACS. Consider all the people you partner with in your life, and you will realize the power of partnerships.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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ACS Comments, which appear in C&EN from time to time, are written by society officers and committee chairs. They are available on C&EN Online at www.cen-online.org/html/acscomments.html. Comments are archived back to 2000.

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