The fourth week in October is National Chemistry Week (NCW). In addition, Mole Day—which commemorates Avogadro’s number, 6.02 × 1023—typically falls within that week, meaning that the public eye is very much on chemistry, particularly in high schools.
This year’s NCW theme is “Energy: Now & Forever!” The American Chemical Society’s Committee on Community Activities developed the theme by borrowing ideas from the energy quarter of the 2011 International Year of Chemistry and expanding them to include traditional and sustainable energy sources.
The occasion brings me back to when I first got involved in outreach. My local section had a long-standing NCW coordinator who intended to step down from the position. When the call went out for a new coordinator, I thought about my experiences. I had done a few chemistry magic shows and regular Mole Day events with the help of student members on my campus, but what was a coordinator meant to do? Could I plan and execute the first-ever NCW event in my town?
Once I took on the job, my first step was to secure a venue. I needed a place where kids would be likely to gather on a weekend. I was told of a children’s museum downtown. One nerve-wracking phone call later, and the museum was on board—I could set up three tables of activities on the Saturday of NCW. I was surprised how readily this nonprofit embraced the idea of an outreach event. Likewise, if you look at your own community, you may find a suitable venue and nonprofit partner that is willing to give you space.
The next step was to decide what activities to present and how to draw in participants. This is where ACS resources are invaluable. As a coordinator, you can order copies of Celebrating Chemistry, a publication for children in grades four through six, along with other giveaways. And “Science for Kids” on the ACS website contains a large number of activities that can be adapted for outreach events sorted by broad themes.
I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough volunteers to run this event, but one should never underestimate the power of extra credit. More students than necessary signed up, though the extra volunteers were welcome because of some no-shows on the day of the event.
Money and supplies were the next hurdle, but fortunately the local section had earmarked some money for outreach. Some of the chosen activities required aluminum cans and plastic bottles; a call to a big-box store landed a supply of these.
Finally, the event needed to be promoted. Our nonprofit partner promoted it through its regular channels, thereby reaching local area schools. Two radio stations read my write-up of the event during their community segments. I sent out a press release to local papers, but it wasn’t picked up.
Five weeks after signing on as coordinator, I was passing out goggles, talking to parents and guardians, and casting an eye over the tables to ensure activities were being done safely. NCW had arrived in my town, and my journey in outreach had begun.
For those of you who want to get started in outreach, I hope I’ve given you some suggestions and pointers. The resources at www.acs.org/outreach and www.acs.org/ncw are there for you, but you’ll be surprised by how welcoming and helpful people can be when you want to start something in your community.
Coordinators can get K–12 students involved in NCW by asking them to take part in the Illustrated Poem Contest. Invite local students to submit a poem of 40 words or less, accompanied by an original illustration on an unlined sheet of paper. Submit your best local poems for the national competition and a chance to win prizes in each section, divided by grade level.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.