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Comment: Taking student engagement to the next level

by Michael R. Adams, chair, Society Committee on Education

July 2, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 21


Photo of Michael R. Adams.
Credit: Christine Brennan Schmidt
Michael R. Adams

How do we help students and postdoctoral scholars know and embrace chemistry’s value to and impact on people and the planet? This question was raised by ACS president Judith C. Giordan during a recent presentation to the Society Committee on Education (SOCED). Her message indicated that more must be done to inspire and support students and postdocs to build careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and meet the challenges of the modern world.

The presentation resonated with SOCED, which plays a key role in advancing the ACS strategic plan and ACS goals to support excellence in education and to embrace and advance inclusion in chemi­stry.

With a vision of advancing chemistry education for all, SOCED has a mission to develop and promote policies, resources, and programs that advance chemistry education for all. Recently updated SOCED goals and strategies reflect the evolving landscape of chemical education, including academic integrity, emergent pedagogies and technologies, and educator evaluations.

As SOCED pursues its goals and implements its strategies, the committee is considering the needs of all students—from kindergarteners to those pursuing graduate studies—and postdocs.

The key to our success is having direct insights from and involvement of students.

The pressing issues these groups face include addressing learning loss as a result of the pandemic, ensuring appropriate use of technology, and preparing for careers in a rapidly changing employment market.

The key to our success is having direct insights from and involvement of students and postdocs as we consider the current realities they face and how we can address them in meaningful ways. Doing so will not only help them understand scientific and professional expectations and social and cultural norms within the chemistry community but also give them opportunities to shape those expectations and norms.

SOCED is working to better understand how people in ACS student communities perceive pathways to success in chemistry and chemistry-related fields. The committee is also working to better integrate and recognize diverse voices, including those of students and postdocs, in its own structure of subcommittees, subgroups, and working teams.

Soliciting their insights and ideas about ACS plans and using their feedback to develop activities will enable the society and students to have a greater impact. It will also help address the declining retention rate for student members no­ted by Laura Sremaniak, chair of the ACS Committee on Membership Affairs, in a recent Comment.

Regardless of where you are in the chemistry community, consider how you can engage students and be transformative. Taking student-oriented steps will help advance the ACS goals to “foster the development of innovative, relevant, and effective chemistry and chemi­stry-related education” and to “identify and dismantle barriers to success, and create a welcoming and supportive environment so that all ACS members, employees, and volunteers can thrive.”

Time that they invest in the ACS should help students and postdocs build networks and develop skills and should provide access to opportunities to grow and experience mentorship. Intentionally involving and connecting them with people and resources across ACS and the chemi­stry community will take their engagement to the next level.

There is already tremendous work taking place within ACS. Dedicated volunteers and staff are supporting a variety of education-focused initiatives and programs. These include ACS educational resources; the ACS Approval Program; and assistance that enables students to attend and present at ACS conferences and events.

ACS supports the US National Chemistry Olympiad, informal science outreach efforts, career development, and networking and mentorship opportunities, as well as participation in the student leader track at the ACS Leadership Institutes. It also hosts ACS Lasting Encounters between Aspiring and Distinguished Scientists (LEADS) Conferences for early-career professionals and students.

Many undergraduate students are introduced to the society through involvement in an ACS student chapter. SOCED recently helped with the development and launch of ACS Graduate Student Organizations. Divisions and local sections offer programs and resources for students, as do many national committees, including the Younger Chemists Committee and the Senior Chemists Committee.

As SOCED pursues its vision to advance chemistry education for all, enga­ging students is our top priority. We invite everyone to learn more about activities in the Students & Educators, Careers, and Communities sections of the ACS website, share inspiration and insights from your experiences, and send suggestions for ways to work together to

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



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