Issue Date: June 25, 2007
Chemistry majors who accepted their undergraduate degrees at ceremonies this spring did not complete the same American Chemical Society-approved programs that their parents did.
The discipline of chemistry itself is changing. The student body is becoming more ethnically diverse, and educators are figuring out more about how students learn. To keep pace, requirements for ACS-approved programs are also changing.
The ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) monitors developments in chemical education as part of its mission to promote excellence in undergraduate and graduate programs. CPT splits its time between gathering and publishing information and developing and administering guidelines that define high-quality undergraduate chemistry programs.
Receiving ACS approval can require a significant commitment of time and resources for a chemistry department, but CPT believes the ACS imprimatur benefits all parties involved. "The fact that 642 undergraduate program departments across the U.S. and Puerto Rico meet these guidelines of excellence has done a tremendous service for the profession in educating future chemists," says William Polik, CPT chair and a chemistry professor at Hope College, in Holland, Mich. It also pays off significantly for the department and the institution, he adds.
During the past three years, CPT has been revising its approval guidelines for undergraduate programs. Departments applying for initial approval in 2008 will be evaluated under the new guidelines.
The goals for the revision are to offer departments more flexibility to incorporate innovative curricula that reflect modern developments in chemistry, Polik says. The guidelines will focus more on student skills such as communication and teamwork while still retaining requirements for faculty and infrastructure that support excellence, he adds.
CPT members have diverse backgrounds and commit significant amounts of time to committee work. "Members are selected to maintain balanced representation of the subdisciplines of chemistry; representation of liberal arts colleges, research universities, and chemical industry; and if possible, a broad geographic distribution," Polik says. "The majority of chemistry graduates will go on and work in industry, so it's important that we have industrial representation."
Unlike other ACS committees, CPT has no associate members, and rather than having standing subcommittees, ad hoc committees are formed to address specific projects as they arise. Each year, CPT holds three-day meetings at both ACS national meetings and a third meeting in early January. The sessions include time for the full committee to evaluate reports from departments that have already been extensively reviewed by individual members. The initial school-approval process also includes committee members meeting in person with department representatives at an ACS national meeting.
If ACS members want to get involved in CPT, Polik recommends volunteering to do a site visit, which is required for schools seeking initial approval.
CPT does not plan to have an approval program for the country's diverse graduate degrees. That's because U.S. graduate chemistry programs are considered the strongest in the world, and part of that strength lies in their diversity, Polik says.
Instead, CPT interacts with graduate programs by gathering and distributing information through surveys and related publications. Two examples are the free online ACS Directory of Graduate Research and the annual report on quantifying chemistry and chemical engineering graduates published in C&EN, he says. Past surveys have examined trends in library use by chemistry students. An upcoming survey will target which skills employers need. CPT develops the surveys and analyzes the results. Four staff members in the ACS Office of Professional Training distribute, collect, and tabulate survey data.
The committee also collects information about minority-serving institutions. It held a workshop on historically black colleges and universities in 2004 and plans to meet with representatives of Hispanic-serving institutions and Native American tribal colleges later this year.
CPT publishes other resources on its website, including guidance for undergraduates planning for graduate school or work in industry and a twice-yearly newsletter for chemistry faculty about trends in chemical education and current CPT activities.
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