Spotlight: University of Maryland, College Park

Members of the University of Maryland, College Park, ACS Student Chapter
Members of the University of Maryland, College Park, ACS Student Chapter

Location: College Park, MD
Faculty advisor: Efrain Rodriguez
President: Seth Cohen
Chapter Members: 32

What special projects has your chapter done?

One of our proudest achievements is building a tutoring program at College Park Academy. We initially reached out to the school to see if we could come in to do some fun demonstrations to get the kids excited about chemistry. After speaking with an administrator at the school, we learned that the students were really struggling with chemistry, and she asked us if we would be willing to put together a tutoring program for them. The logistics were difficult to work out, because volunteers in this school district are required to be fingerprinted and have background checks. Hosting the program was also a bigger challenge than we expected, because we had to put together lesson plans each week, and think of ways to teach the concepts so that the kids could understand them. It was a lot of hard work, but it was extremely gratifying when we were finally able to give the kids “aha” moments.

What are some interesting ways your chapter recruits and retains members?

We host engaging team-building events at our first meeting so that students can get to know each other better. We have a tradition of making liquid nitrogen ice cream. It’s a great way to get people to come out to our events, because liquid nitrogen is always cool to watch and everyone loves ice cream. Even though our ice cream tends to come out more like a milkshake than ice cream, everyone still has a lot of fun.

In addition to making ice cream this fall, we had members get into teams of people they didn’t already know and held a little competition to see who could build the tallest structure out of uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows. The pressure of competition generated a ton of excitement and helped forge new friendships.

UMCP chapter setting up for Mole Day
Chapter members set up for Mole Day.

Do you collaborate with other clubs on campus? If so, what do you do with them?

Our ACS chapter often participates in and spearheads collaborations with other groups. We started our annual Mole Day event, which brings together a variety of STEM organizations for a science celebration. We have also partnered with the Society of Physics Students on their full-day campus outreach event (also outlined above). We will continue these collaborations and start new ones this year. We’re planning to collaborate with the Food Science Club to bring a chocolatier chemist to one of our meetings to talk to students about their work.

What local ACS student chapters have you collaborated with?

To date we have not collaborated with other ACS student chapters in the area. We therefore decided to get started reaching out this year. After meeting officers from the UMBC chapter at the ACS national meeting this past August, we agreed that our chapters should have a tighter bond. So far we are planning to have their chapter visit us for Mole Day (we plan to apply for an Inter-Chapter Relations Grant for the event), and we may also have our members drive up to UMBC to see one of their speakers. Additionally, their chapter came up with the great idea that we could produce a joint presentation to give at a local ACS event in the near future.

What was your most successful fundraiser?

Our most successful fundraisers are “Launch Campaigns” that we hold about every other year. Launch UMD is a campus crowdfunding platform that is widely recognized by students, parents, faculty, and alumni at UMD. This past spring, we were able to raise a little under $2500. The purpose of the fundraiser was to cover the costs to send some of our members to the ACS national meeting in Washington, DC, and we were able to raise significantly more than we needed. We will be using the leftover funds to cover the costs of our outreach programs and toward the ACS meeting next fall.

What career-related events does your chapter hold?

Our seminar series is closely tied to professional development, as we generally invite speakers at surrounding institutions that accept interns. We ask the speakers to talk about their research and how they developed their careers. This year we will be testing out a General Body Meeting dedicated to professional development. Our faculty advisor, Dr. Rodriguez, will give a short talk about what he looks for when he is recruiting undergraduates to work in his lab. Afterward we will do a peer résumé swap to try to improve our résumés with the advice from Dr. Rodriguez. We will be providing pizza since it promises to be a long night of work.

How have your members benefited from attending ACS technical meetings?

Each year several of our members attend the fall national meeting. This past meeting, we had the opportunity to stop by the Grad School Fair, where we spoke to representatives from various schools about different programs.

We also participated in a Speed Networking event, during which we spoke to several chemists about their career paths and asked them for advice about our own careers.
We also attended seminars on a wide range of different chemical disciplines. It was interesting to see a little bit of what researchers are working on at other institutions, and this was especially helpful to some of our members in figuring out what they might be interested in doing in the future.

Faculty Advisor: Efrain Rodriguez

Why did you become a faculty advisor?

I was a starting assistant professor in the fall of 2012, and I wanted to better connect with our undergraduate students in the department to recruit into my lab. I thought it was a great mechanism for better involving our students in research not just in my lab but that of my colleagues as well. We started the chapter in the fall of 2012 with the help of the department and a representative from the ACS national office who gave a presentation to our students on the benefits of being part of this larger network. A core group of very active students took it upon themselves to organize and restart the student chapter at UMD College Park. We have been going strong since then.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your service as a faculty advisor?

The biggest reward for me has been taking a group of students to the ACS national meetings and watching them interact with the larger community and develop their professional skills. The students are really taken aback by the size of the meetings and how broad and impactful the chemical sciences are in many aspects of life. They attend symposia showcasing great science, and they also get to see just how important it is to network with other universities, industry, and government. They get a much broader view of the world going to these conferences, and that helps them mature in their undergraduate careers. As faculty, to see my students present their work to a larger audience and start to develop the skills of being a professional scientist is very rewarding.

What advice can you offer those new to the advisor position?

I cannot think of a more wonderful group of enthusiastic young students to work with than the ACS student members. They want to succeed, and they want to represent the university well. If you can guide them on how to use their positive energy on well-defined and focused projects, then both the department and the students will benefit enormously from having an ACS student chapter on campus.