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Opportunities for inclusive science education

by Jennifer B. Nielson, Chair, ACS Society Committee on Education
November 15, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 44


Photo of Jennifer Nielson.
Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Nielson
Jennifer Nielson

This past March, educators and students were thrust into a world of remote teaching and learning. Meanwhile, people across the US began having deeper conversations about racism, equity, and belonging. In 2021, the chemistry community has a unique opportunity to not just survive but thrive by becoming aware of the challenges of creating inclusive education and using new understanding and technologies to solve those challenges.

How will we, as educators, better use technology to teach, even when we are able to fully return to our classrooms? How will we make that technology accessible? What structures in teaching and assessment best support a learner who is dealing with anxiety, discrimination, adverse economic conditions, poor academic performance, or anything else that makes learning more difficult? What institutional and cultural shifts need to happen for all students to have access to science education and reach their highest potential in their chosen field?

In short, what would our society look like if we had inclusive science education?

Last year, the Society Committee on Education (SOCED) reviewed the American Chemical Society’s “Science Education Policy” statement and recommended updates ( The following excerpt emphasizes several essential aspects of the science education policy: “Preparing current and future students with the skills necessary to address rapidly evolving challenges requires investment at all levels of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. It is vital that every student attains an appropriate level of science understanding to be prepared for current and future challenges and opportunities.”

We have the opportunity to build on our experiences from 2020.

The statement includes several goals for achieving this. Two that stand out for 2020 are the following:

Promoting lifelong, rigorous scientific education to improve understanding of science and its role in society

Encouraging “students of all backgrounds, particularly those from underrepresented groups, in the pursuit of education and careers in STEM fields”

We have the opportunity to build on our experiences from 2020. We often focus on the less-than-exemplary aspects of the emergency transition to remote instruction as well as their stresses and challenges. But there were many praiseworthy aspects of the transition from individuals, departments, and disciplinary communities. Examples can be found across the chemistry community.

The September special issue of the Journal of Chemical Education, “Insights Gained While Teaching Chemistry in the Time of COVID-19,” takes a closer look at what so many of you have done and learned. To help the chemistry education community, ACS launched a website titled ACS Efforts and Resources on COVID-19.

There are many ways in which ACS has been responsive to the call for diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect in the chemistry enterprise. You can learn about some of these efforts from the website Advancing ACS’ Core Value of Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect. The Journal of Chemical Education put out a call for papers for a special issue on diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect in chemistry education, research, and practice. The ACS Bridge Program is designed to increase the number of underrepresented students of color obtaining PhDs in the chemical sciences, as part of the Inclusive Graduate Education Network. In addition, many ACS committees and divisions have organized workshops and seminars to specifically address topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect and incorporate these topics into their strategic plans. SOCED will hold a diversity session in December to explore the role that SOCED and ACS have in promoting inclusive education for all students.

Developing skills and science understanding and preparing students at all levels for science coursework require that each of us plays a part. We need to keep working together, consider how we use technology to engage students and assess learning outcomes, and determine what role labs should play in education. What we are learning from our successes and failures in remote instruction, career support, mental health, and other issues brought on by the pandemic will inform further efforts to support students, instructors, teaching aids and learning assistants, administrators, and others in chemistry education.

This year has been filled with questions and concerns about remote education. It has also been a year filled with creativity, community building, and learning. How can we sustain our commitment to education using our insights from the transition to remote teaching? How can we maintain our renewed diversity and inclusion efforts in chemistry?

The inspiration to continue improving science education comes from our desire to answer the call: What would our society look like if we had inclusive science education?

We need to hear from you. What have you learned from your successes and failures in chemistry education in 2020? Share your insights and experiences with me at

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



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