Approximately 18,000 chemistry bachelor’s degrees are conferred in the U.S. each year by more than 650 American Chemical Society-approved baccalaureate programs. While each of these programs is unique, they share a strong commitment to training and educating undergraduates for successful professional careers. Graduates from these ACS-approved programs benefit from qualified faculty and instructors, a curriculum that balances breadth and depth, a programmatic emphasis on the development of professional skills, and institutional support and infrastructure.
However, career paths of recent graduates are becoming increasingly diverse, and according to 2014 U.S. Census data, recent science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates are not only seeking graduate education or employment as industrial chemists or as educators, but they are also finding meaningful employment in disparate fields, including information technology, health care, and business management.
In response to these trends, many baccalaureate programs are exploring ways to increase flexibility in designing curricula and training students for careers in these fields. The ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT), which develops the ACS guidelines used to approve baccalaureate programs, is preparing to address these trends in its next revision of the guidelines.
The most recent guidelines, introduced in 2015, formalized the need to include macromolecules in the chemistry curriculum, required the use of different instrumentation types, and defined the minimum number of faculty (five) needed to maintain a viable ACS-approved program. It also added flexibility on requirements of literature resources and adjusted contact-hour (classroom period) limits for faculty and instructors.
Additional adjustments to the guidelines are now needed to keep abreast of changes in employment prospects and the landscape of chemical education. CPT convened a retreat in June 2017 to identify the guidelines needing revision. Topics discussed include the following:
• Curricular assessment, including the use of program and course learning objectives
• Student preparation within the context of technical and professional skills
• The role of laboratory experiences in the curriculum
• The value of undergraduate research
• Demographics and diversity among faculty and instructors
• Professional development for faculty and instructors
• Contact hours as a barometer of workload
CPT initiated a separate discussion on these topics during a symposium at the 2018 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education. One of the most heated debates was around the use of contact hours as a measure of faculty workload. The purpose of the contact-hour maximum for course and lab instruction is to ensure that faculty members have time away from instruction for other academic activities, including updating and preparing course materials, holding office hours, advising students, doing research, and doing community service for their profession. Some argued in favor of keeping such limits and maintaining the status quo, while others supported changing the metrics to better reflect workload and the individual responsibilities and roles within an institution. More feedback and perspectives from all stakeholders are needed to help define and revise this important aspect of undergraduate education.
Other suggestions that came out of the discussion include further emphasizing safety education, promoting the incorporation of sustainable green chemistry, and allowing more flexibility to accommodate undergraduate training outside traditional chemistry tracks (for example, chemical education, computational chemistry, and materials science).
Whether you are a department head, a research-focused teaching faculty, a potential employer, a recent graduate, or a current student, CPT wants your input. How should the next ACS guidelines shape undergraduate education and training in 2020 and beyond? How will programs and departments plan to excel at training their students in the next decade? How should students prepare for a meaningful career in a rapidly evolving landscape? What can faculty and instructors do to best advance their careers? How do employers and recruiters define the best attributes of their future employees? How can ACS work with baccalaureate programs to make the training and education of future chemists a veritable example of “Chemistry for Life”?
Please let us know your thoughts on these topics by providing your feedback on the CPT website at www.acs.org/cpt. You can also participate in virtual focus groups and respond to several short surveys on topics such as student skills, workload and contact hours, and outcome assessment.
These are only a few of the opportunities that you have to make your voices heard. We’ll also be hosting symposia, publishing updates, and holding open meetings, which will all be announced on the CPT website.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.