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ACS Seeks More Science Coaches

Under an ACS program, members partner with science teachers to fortify their curricula and inspire students

by Susan J. Ainsworth
June 15, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 24

Photo of Amy Keirstead, who is an organic chemistry professor at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, coaching high school students in rural Maine.
Credit: Seth Staples
Keirstead coaches high school students in Maine.

The American Chemical Society’s Education Division is expanding its Science Coaches program, under which chemistry professionals volunteer time and expertise to support elementary, middle, and high school teachers during an academic year.

The program, which had 32 volunteer coaches at its inception as a pilot program in 2010, is aiming to grow during the 2015–16 school year to enroll 250 chemists—up from 200 in the 2014–15 academic year.

In addition to providing the general framework for the program, ACS will continue to donate $500 to each school where a coach volunteers. Grants can be used to purchase science supplies such as goggles, thermometers, or molecular modeling kits to support the coach’s volunteer efforts.

Aiming to provide support tailored to each teacher’s needs, coaches perform demonstrations, plan labs, answer tough science questions, provide career guidance to students, or propose enrichment activities, says Stephanie Prosack, a Science Coaches program associate at ACS.

Science coaches say they volunteer at schools because they want to help students see science concepts in real-life situations and expand students’ horizons by highlighting science careers they may not have thought about, Prosack says.

Credit: Courtesy of Sam and Sumita Mitra
Retired 3M chemists, the Mitras, volunteer in Minnesota in the ACS Science Coaches program.
Photo of husband-and-wife duo, Sam and Sumita Mitra, who are retired 3M chemists, volunteer in the ACS Science Coaches program.
Credit: Courtesy of Sam and Sumita Mitra
Retired 3M chemists, the Mitras, volunteer in Minnesota in the ACS Science Coaches program.

That’s been true for Science Coaches Sam and Sumita Mitra, a husband-and-wife duo who are retired 3M chemists. Assisting science teachers in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, Sam shows high school students how science and chemistry make a difference in their lives. He describes how chemistry is used to create familiar products, such as 3M’s Post-It Notes; provides advice about how students can prepare for science jobs; and discusses the relevance of chemistry in world affairs.

Meanwhile, Sumita travels more than 120 miles to volunteer as an ACS Science Coach at a rural school, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Sleepy Eye, Minn. A fan of leading hands-on activities, Sumita particularly enjoys teaching students about the basic science of dental materials—many of which she developed during her career at 3M.

“The students appreciate learning how much chemistry is involved in the creation of almost everything they use in their daily lives—from cosmetics to dental fillings,” she says. “When I see students display their enthusiasm and sense of achievement, it certainly makes my day.”

Other science coaches reap similar rewards. Amy E. Keirstead, who is an organic chemistry professor at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, says she gets satisfaction out of helping high school science students prepare for college.

Under the Science Coaches program, Keirstead partners with high school chemistry teacher Seth Staples at Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, Maine. She visits Staples’s class and helps his students understand college-level chemistry concepts by presenting condensed versions of the lectures she has developed for her university students. She also demonstrates how to conduct college-level experiments.

In addition, Keirstead arranges for the students to visit the University of New England, where they tour the laboratories, and student volunteers show them how to use analytical techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy, and gas chromatography.

At the end of the school year, Keirstead helps the students develop poster presentations that showcase their research and bolster their public speaking and communication skills.

Keirstead says she benefits from the program as well. “As a college professor, it’s helpful to have insights into what and how the students are learning in high school. It helps me better tune in to my students’ needs and learning styles.”

Graduate students, retirees, and chemistry professionals at all stages of their careers are encouraged to apply to participate in the ACS Science Coaches program for the 2015–16 school year. To read more about the experiences of volunteers involved in the program, go to

For further program information and applications, which are due by Oct. 30, visit

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