ACS Student Leaders Make Connections for Life through Chemistry
Joy bubbles up as the clock inches closer to noon on a rainy day in Ames, IA. I am vibrating in my seat with excitement for what the next hour and a half is going to bring.
Almost five years ago, when I was an undergraduate student at California State University, Fresno, I took part in the 2015 ACS Leadership Institute along with 15 other undergraduates. We stayed in touch over the years, and now we are coming together for a big teleconference call. As Kelsey Briley, a graduate of Tennessee Technological University, logs in, she comments that she has never done something like this before. It warms my heart as people begin to chat and get comfortable. Today’s goal? To catch up, reflect on our time together, and impart some wisdom for the up-and-coming leaders in the student communities of ACS.
Where it all began
Flashback to January 2015: 16 undergraduate students chosen from all over the United States, including Puerto Rico, congregated in Dallas, TX, to learn what it means to be a leader in the chemical sciences. Each of us already had a leadership role in our ACS student chapter, but this event was a completely different ballgame. We got to mingle and connect not only with established chemists who volunteer to run their local and regional sections but also with the folks who make up the ACS Board of Directors.
It was an intense two days. We sat in on leadership development courses, learned about topics such as motivating volunteers and engaging communities, workshopped ideas to bring back to our own student chapters and local sections, and absorbed so much content. Oh, and networked. Maria Philip (Birmingham-Southern College) reminisced about how the Leadership Institute shocked her out of her shell. That experience, she said, is still helpful for graduate school, as she works on a committee dedicated to chemical safety at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
After the Leadership Institute experience, our cohort became the fastest of friends. Over the last few years, we have kept in touch through social media, in person, and through our travels. Several of us were able to meet up over the years at ACS national meetings. Outside of ACS, members of the group have crossed paths in other settings. Nina Diklich (graduate of Aquinas College), and Theresa Dierker (graduate of University of Detroit Mercy) participated in Michigan’s annual “Battle of the Chemistry Clubs” for some good fun and competition. Chris Jackson (graduate of St. Edward’s University) and Nina had the opportunity to advocate for climate change at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France. And after three years of sporadic messaging, Monica Sanchez (graduate of Los Angeles Trade Technical College), Calla McCulley (graduate of University of Alabama, Birmingham), and I finally met up in Austin, TX, for Labor Day Weekend in 2018. Calla was a wonderful host and showed us the city, amazing food, and some of the University of Texas at Austin campus, including her research space at the Microelectronics Research Center.
Keeping up the connections
Now, we all go about our days, but we always remember how we got to where we are. I myself have a lot of appreciation for ACS for keeping me involved. I restarted the local Younger Chemists Committee and integrated it with the Ames local ACS section (we’re a small but fierce community!). On a national level, I serve as a member of the Graduate Education Advisory Board to give voice to concerns we as graduate students (and postdoctoral scholars) have on a variety of issues, from sexual harassment to implicit bias to mentoring. I’m also on the ACS Bridge Project Advisory Board, an NSF INCLUDES-funded collaborative initiative that is doing its part to increase racial and ethnic minority representation in the chemical sciences. The ACS Bridge Project allows students to be accepted to one of our partner institutions and gives students the opportunity to boost their skills for graduate school. Kelsey went back to the Leadership Institute a second time and discovered her passion for teaching. Marco Lopez, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Monica Sanchez, who is now working for ExxonMobil, are grateful for being welcomed as “nontraditional” students--they started in community college. Monica balances everything in her busy life on top of being a parent.
We still keep relatively connected too! In fact, we all agree that liking a photo or status update on social media brightens our days. Even if we’re miles apart, those connections we forged way back when still matter. My interests in science communication and policy ended up on a teleconference call on a science policy working group on diversity, equity, and inclusion where I ran into Chris. In fact, the first weekend of November was another awesome reunion! This time, it was Chris, Marco, and me in Madison, WI. Chris and I participated in the National Science Policy Network’s annual symposium, and Marco is in the midst of his second year of the chemistry graduate program at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Moving on together
We all still have so much of our journey to uncover. Theresa is getting ready to finish medical school at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine; there are quite a few of us in the midst of graduate school; Kelsey is having a blast as a high school chemistry teacher (check out her Instagram @chemistryonacart); Monica is doing well in industry. Who knows where life will take us next? It’s exciting to see all of us on our own adventures, and thankfully social media has made it easier than ever to stay in touch. In fact, to get this article started, I simply posted to our Facebook group, and voilá! Pictures and ideas abound.
For all future leaders out there (and you all have the potential!), we want to share a few words of wisdom:
“Find yourself a good mentor!” —Marco Lopez, Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin, Madison
“Don’t put yourself in a box. There’s a wide variety of what a chemist is capable of.” —Chris Jackson, Graduate Student, University of California, Berkeley
“Find the people you can be real with.” —Monica Sanchez, Laboratory Technician, ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, CA
“Stay open-minded! You don’t have to wear a lab coat to be a scientist.” —Kelsey Briley, High School Teacher, Station Camp High School
“Success can take time as advancements are built on failure.” —Calla McCulley, Graduate Student, University of Texas, Austin
“Don’t be afraid of change. Continue to reevaluate as you go through life, and don’t let inertia take over.” —Theresa Dierker, Medical Student, Michigan State University
“It’s okay if some days you don’t accomplish everything you set out to do. Be flexible with the goals you set for yourself.” —Maria Philip, Graduate Student, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
“Believe in yourself. You are enough and you are deserving. Don’t compare yourself to others.” —Gloria De La Garza, Graduate Student, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Finally, from me, make sure to lift people up! There is a lot of negativity out there, but I like to think that positivity can outweigh it. Thanks for listening to our story. I hope you can carve out your own with many people supporting you.
See where we are on this interactive map.