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Offer Your Service—The Benefits Are Endless!

by Ingrid Montes, Chair, Committee on Community Activities
June 22, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 25

Credit: José Pérez-Mesa
Credit: José Pérez-Mesa

A scholar is defined as someone who distinguishes himself or herself in three areas: research, education, and service. Educators understand the first two criteria; however, the third one is not typically listed as a priority. This is unfortunate, because when educators choose to provide service to their community, it not only increases their professional worth, it also sends a clear message to their students about the importance of community service. There are many benefits for educators who integrate service learning into their classrooms.

As many of you know, service learning incorporates classroom curricula and service (often youth service) within one's community. Service learning also incorporates responsibility and reflection, encourages lifelong civic engagement, and strengthens communities for the common good.

The American Chemical Society's community outreach programs, such as the upcoming National Chemistry Week (NCW) in October and last April's Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED), provide numerous opportunities for all ACS members and chemistry enthusiasts to plan activities in their communities. If you are an educator or instructor, these programs also provide a wonderful avenue for bringing service learning into your classroom. As a professor, I personally enlist my students in service learning through participation in NCW and CCED programs.

Specifically, I ask my students to use ACS materials and resources to develop strategies to explain chemical concepts to younger students as well as to nonscientist adults. To do this, students must develop a clear and deep understanding of what they have to explain. Then they must be able to deliver the message to a nonscientific audience in a simple and engaging way.

This activity and those like it foster strategic thought, deliberation, and teamwork, and they help develop character by encouraging a strong work ethic while building self-esteem. In addition, for undergraduates, the chemistry concepts become clearer as they increase their knowledge and understanding while sharing NCW and CCED with the public.

This year, ACS will observe NCW by celebrating the 140th anniversary of the periodic table. The 2009 theme is "Chemistry—It's Elemental!" Each year, a community event is the centerpiece of NCW. This year's activity will involve thousands of volunteers collecting nonperishable food (in recyclable tin and aluminum cans) and donating it to local food banks.

Precollege students will participate in a nationwide poster contest. Prizes will be awarded to those students whose posters best illustrate the theme with a fun, motivational, and inspiring representation of an element or elements in the periodic table. Prizes will be awarded in four age categories: kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grades, sixth through eighth grades, and ninth through 12th grades.

Celebrating Chemistry, a National Science Education Standards-aligned newspaper for elementary school students, will highlight the history of an element or elements, the roles elements play in everyday life, common and not-so-common uses of elements, and the history of the periodic table. For high school students, the October issue of the ACS magazine ChemMatters will be devoted to NCW.

Undergraduate ACS student chapters will participate in a Chemvention competition to design great hands-on activities for elementary school children. These activities will be used next year and will relate to the 2010 theme, "Behind the Scenes with Chemistry." Activities will focus on forensics, special effects, and the difference between what we see on television and real science.

More information and materials for students, educators, media, ACS and non-ACS NCW coordinators, and industry representatives can be found at

As always, I would like to thank you, the participants, and recognize all of your excellent past and future contributions toward promoting a positive image of chemistry. And if you know someone who you believe has done outstanding service, I encourage you to nominate him or her for an Outstanding Service to ACS Award under the newly created ACS Fellows Program. This award category includes, but is not limited to, involvement in one or more of the ACS community outreach programs, environmental efforts, and similar outreach activities or public communication by press, radio, TV, or electronic media; participation in governance; contributions to publications in the role of editor, assistant or associate editor; and meeting planning. For more information about this program, please visit

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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