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An ACS member benefit: Volunteering with your local section

by Jason E. Ritchie, Chair, Local Section Activities Committee
November 2, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 43

 

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Credit: Courtesy of Jason Ritchie
Jason Ritchie and his daughter, Alex, prepare a 9-layer density tower in Alex's 5th-grade science class.

Volunteering with your American Chemical Society local section is a great way to build your professional network and develop transferable skills. By volunteering, you can improve your skills relevant to supervising a research group, managing a lab, leading a department, finding funding resources, or running a business.

ACS local section volunteers support their local sections by engaging in important tasks such as building teams by matching personal and professional interests and talents, seeking funding for innovative projects, planning events from start to finish, engaging in strategic planning, and finding and developing new leaders through coaching and feedback, all in a collaborative and collegial environment.

Many ACS local sections host formal meetings as an important recurring function of the section. These meetings may be scientific in nature, focus on professional development, or be some hybrid of the above with a more social theme.

Last year, for example, the Detroit Local Section sponsored a symposium on sustainable polymers that included a poster session highlighting students’ work in the polymer field and a networking event that enabled discussions between industry and academic speakers. The section won a ChemLuminary Award for its work.

The local section’s volunteers planned a large event, coordinated with other volunteers, and obtained funding. These are important skills that you can develop as a volunteer and then apply in the workplace to advance your career.

In addition to formal meetings, local sections frequently organize community outreach events around Chemists Celebrate Earth Week, National Chemistry Week, and ACS Science Cafés.

Outreach events are a wonderful way to reach the public, and they can also benefit the volunteers who organize and execute these exciting events.

For National Chemistry Week last year, the Binghamton Local Section organized an event at the Kopernik Observatory & Science Center. The event engaged the public in space chemistry with hands-on activities and gave attendees the chance to learn how the observatory studies chemistry, tour its three large telescopes, and take home some freeze-dried ice cream.

Outreach events are a wonderful way to reach the public, and they can also benefit the volunteers who organize and execute these exciting events. I’ve found that most volunteers really enjoy participating in events because they get to show off their love for chemistry. These events also present a unique opportunity for volunteers to establish personal and professional connections with other ACS members, local businesses, and community leaders.

In addition, volunteers improve their skills by working in collaborative teams, and they grow their confidence in organizing events. This helps local section members feel that they are an important part of the local section and that the local section is providing them a home for their professional needs and their desire to volunteer in the community.

If your local section has a strong academic component, you may have an opportunity to target local section programming to college and graduate student members and to recruit them to help organize outreach events for elementary and high school students. You might consider asking your student members to take a leadership role in planning programming specifically for younger chemists or to work on your local section’s National Chemistry Week or Chemists Celebrate Earth Week events.

Additionally, the Younger Chemists Committee and ACS Webinars have developed Program-in-a-Box offerings that make hosting a webinar event easy. The events are easy to organize, and many of the webinar topics are especially interesting to younger chemists.

I’ve found that our college and graduate student members are some of the best and most enthusiastic volunteers for outreach events for elementary and high school students in the community. Working with younger students on local section projects is beneficial for them, as it helps integrate them into the chemistry profession, and it can be a great way to pay it forward.

Asking students to take on an official role in organizing events gives them an opportunity to work in leadership roles in the local section, develop an appreciation for teamwork in education, and develop effective communication and teaching techniques.

There are many ways to get involved in your local section. I hope you consider taking advantage of this opportunity to use your ACS membership experience to your personal and professional advantage. If you have ideas, you can reach me at jritchie@olemiss.edu.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.

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