Business Not As Usual for University of Puerto Rico - Río Piedras Campus
Like many other ACS student chapters, ours was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to reinvent our chapter activities, meetings, and planning. Before the pandemic, our campus played an important role in providing a dedicated location to develop and conduct activities. Everything happened on campus.
When the pandemic shut the campus down, ACS University of Puerto- Río Piedras Campus (UPR-RP) was determined to keep up the chapter’s momentum on planning community service, outreach, networking, webinars, The Magic of Chemistry Show, hands-on demonstrations, and Green Chemistry demonstrations, but very few of these events were conducted on campus or face-to-face. Instead, most of these activities were online. Now, two years into the pandemic, even though campus restrictions have relaxed and we eventually returned to campus, we have learned that the virtual world is our best ally! Why? Because we have access to people all over the world with just one click.
One of the most valuable lessons we learned from being forced to operate online is that we could expand our network and feature speakers from different parts of the US and other countries in our webinars and conferences. Our virtual activities are here to stay. But like any other type of event, there are challenges. Here’s what we learned about planning online activities.
One of the biggest challenges we had to contend with was coordination. We continued to work in collaboration with other student chapters, ACS ChemClubs for high school students, organizations, and the ACS Puerto Rico Local Section. The collaboration among different organizations gave us the opportunity to reach more members and a wider community in general all around the world. However, we had to be very meticulous in terms of technology because every single virtual meeting had a different identification number, platform, promotion, and logistical element.
Even more important, when collaborating with other student chapters, we had to take different time zones into consideration in order to select a time appropriate for everyone. But this did not prevent us from fulfilling our objectives.
When planning and developing these activities, one of the things that we considered is the community that we wanted to impact, so that the members felt connected and welcomed.
In the pre-COVID world, our chapter was not familiar with hosting webinars. We started a process of digitalization of The Magic of Chemistry Show (chemical demonstrations), so that we could impact more people at any moment with more ease and flexibility. For example, in collaboration with Ciencia Puerto Rico, a nonprofit organization committed to the advancement of science in Puerto Rico, and its program Semillas de Triunfo (Triumph Seeds), we have hosted for two years in a row a live workshop in which the participants follow experiment demonstrations, guided by a video recording that the chapter previously prepared. All of the participants’ questions are answered by us live in a Zoom meeting.
To ensure that participants experience what approximates an in-person hands-on activity, a complete kit is prepared for each participant and sent by mail. More than 120 kids from different parts of the island participated in this activity. Technology definitely helped us to reach them more easily.
We have hosted webinars with former members of our student chapter to share their experiences about how science and leadership positions impacted their lives in their professional careers. One of these activities was very special because we had the presence of members of our faculty, ACS local section coordinators, and ACS chapters from different places around the world, including Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, the US mainland, and here in Puerto Rico. It has been an extraordinary experience to see UPR-RP alumni and ACS former members, connect and give advice to our members about how this organization helped them in their respective careers and even today is a very special part of their lives.
Without any doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic brought great uncertainty and many difficult times. It affected all our activities, given that before the pandemic most of them were in-person interactions whether on- or off-campus. COVID-19 forced us to innovate our ways of doing and sharing chemistry and improved our creativity in terms of activities development.
We have been recognized by ACS as an outstanding student chapter for almost 30 consecutive years, and we needed to maintain our high standards to keep such an important acknowledgment. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we host webinars, get in touch with others from all around the world, can conduct activities without being in-person, and change people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry more easily and with a new perspective.
It was important for us to embrace what we learned during this unprecedented time because it enabled us to enhance our impact in places and areas we never imagined. Moreover, it provided a way to develop skills (communication, presentations, organization, and leadership) needed for our development as future well-rounded and competent professionals.