How I Started an ACS Student Chapter in Quarantine

Sakshi Yogendra Kasat, a third-year student and ACS student chapter president at the Bombay College of Pharmacy, in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, describes how she and her peers started an international ACS student chapter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACS Student Chapter - BCP members
ACS Student Chapter members from Bombay College of Pharmacy, in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

The inspiration

Our journey began in the bitter phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-July 2020. I am not a chemistry major. But as I pursued my studies, I came to realize chemistry is a subject that holds great significance in understanding the fundamentals of major courses in pharmacy, and it cannot be separated from the profession. Unfortunately, some students do not enjoy chemistry that much. Some even fear the subject and find it difficult. I wanted to find a way to make it interesting and enjoyable to change the outlook students have toward chemistry.

After browsing the Internet, I found out about the ACS student chapter program. I thought it was innovative and would allow us to do justice to the wonders of chemistry by making it as fun and creative as possible.

Establishing and managing a new chapter was a challenge because I had another big role as editorial assistant at Pharma Times, the Indian Pharmaceutical Association’s monthly newsmagazine. I didn't want to compromise my extensive editing and proofreading work at Pharma Times. And I was nervous about becoming a leader as I assumed I was not a “good fit.” But I felt an inner unstoppable drive to start this venture as this would be an opportunity to gain leadership skills, grow professionally, and delve further into my love for chemistry. And this was true not only for me but also for some of my peers who were waiting for a chance to  grow their management, leadership, organizational, and editing skills. Ultimately, we all wanted a chance to work as a team and fulfill the purpose of the chapter with our passion for chemistry.

I knew there would be other challenges, but I felt that starting this chapter was the right thing to do. After getting the green light from the chief editor of Pharma Times, Dr. Alka Mukne, I began forming a team to move forward. We were ready to fulfill the vision of making chemistry fun and helping students get over their fear of presenting research in front of large audiences.

Getting started

To start an ACS student chapter, you are required to have at least six students and a faculty advisor who are ACS members, so I approached a few friends who had not explored their potential in any club. They were ready for this venture!  I (Sakshi Kasat, president), Sohum Mohare (secretary), Manali Somanna (vice president), Krati Jain (treasurer), Vindhya Regonda (editorial chair), Yash Shah (communications chair), and Ayush Kumar (events chair) are the executive founding team of the ACS Bombay College of Pharmacy Student Chapter  (ACS-BCP SC).

We approached Dr. Krishna Iyer, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, who is popular at our college for his wisdom and support for student activities. He readily accepted our request to become our chapter’s faculty advisor. Dr. Sagar Patel, assistant professor of pharmaceutical analysis, and Dr. Elvis Martis, assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, were also eager to assist us as faculty co-advisors and help us take this initiative to the next level.

Everything was new to us. Fortunately, we found the ACS website very helpful, and the ACS Student Communities team responded immediately to our queries. We became ACS student members, formulated our student chapter constitution, and planned a rough budget for the $300 Student Chapter Starter Grant.

The starter grant was particularly helpful, as it made us financially independent to work and carry out activities in the initial phase. However, to get the grant, we needed to provide our college’s student organization policy, which Bombay College of Pharmacy didn’t have. With the support of our college principal, Dr. Krishnapriya Mohanraj, we started formulating a new college club policy. Finally, on September 27, 2020, we were ready with our ACS member IDs, student organization policy, chapter bylaws, and our budget plan for the starter grant. When we received our letters confirming the chapter starter grant and our charter as a new chapter on October 7, we were very excited.

Putting the team together

Our big challenge was that COVID-19 has locked down our campus, so we couldn’t have in-person discussions. Instead, we connect through phone calls, WhatsApp, and Zoom/Google Meet for discussions. The journey was long as we had to start from scratch: formulate the college club policy, the bylaws, budget, and event planning. And all of this then had to be approved by the college hierarchy. We used Google apps to create and edit the documents together, and share photos to upload on social media, and circulate policies, reports, presentations, and other documents. In the offline mode, one draft and a meeting with the advisors would result in a finalized policy or a full event plan, but it also made the process slower as a lot of time was taken up by scheduling and finding availability. Normally, we would just have gone to our professor’s office to get approvals. On the positive side, a lot of paper printing was eliminated, and meetings have become more productive due to fewer distractions.

Today, we have an executive team of 18 undergrads, working and supporting each other, including Aditi Ranade and Saurabh Kundekar (Communications team); Tanvi Remulkar,  Harshita Patil, and Khushali Nathani (Events team); and Pravajja Vaddikar, Ketki Bhave, and Yash Gondegaonkar (Editorial  team). The Communications team is responsible for promoting the events, creating flyers and posters, website creation, and managing social media. The Events team plans, organizes, manages, and promotes events, contests, and webinars; and finds speakers and judges for webinars. The Editorial team does a lot of work due to virtual events such as drafting promotional messages, maintaining minutes of meetings (Journal Club), making reports, and helping draft captions for social media. Our club now has a total of 80 enthusiastic members from diverse backgrounds from all around the nation, committed to active learning through our open-to-all initiative of the ACS-BCP Chemistry Journal Club.

Taking action

We celebrated National Chemistry Week by organizing three contests in which students were challenged to write an autobiography of a glue, draw or digitally create a humorous comic on chemistry laboratory scenes, and create memes on general chemistry. We held four events: Periodic Table ChemBingo, an interactive chemistry quiz, a webinar on adhesives, and a glue-making demonstration for seventh-grade students. We have been featured in ACS’s Facebook photo album, and our National Chemistry Week celebration was highlighted in the December 17, 2020, issue of Chemical & Engineering News (Volume 98, Issue 48).

We continue to organize our Journal Club, do monthly webinars, and plan fun events for engaging the community with the principles of chemistry, adhering to the vision of ACS.

We are thankful to our principal, Dr. Mohanraj, for her constant support. Suchita Panchal, of the Accounts Department guided us in the grant application. Throughout the process, our faculty advisors Dr. Iyer, Dr. Sagar, and Dr. Elvis, were always there, encouraging us in our ideas and in their execution. Aniket Gupta, president of the ACS-DTU student chapter, Delhi, helped us whenever we had a query in the pre-establishment phase.

The constant support that we got from ACS, especially from Becky Miller, former global engagement manager, is much appreciated. We were not left in confusion whether it was about the constitution of the chapter, the starter grant, the charter, the branding guidelines, or the logo. We received active support from ACS India, especially from Aparna Sharma and Dr. Ajay Kumar Jha, who also accepted our invitation to speak at the Orientation cum Inauguration Program of our chapter on October 14, 2020. I thank the ACS Student Communities team for their enthusiasm, inventiveness, and help to all the student members. On behalf of the whole team of the ACS-BCP Student Chapter, I thank ACS for allowing us to help magnify the learning experience for students of undergraduate, postgraduate, and Ph.D. programs at Bombay College of Pharmacy and elsewhere.

The ACS-BCP Student Chapter has not only given us a chance to work closely with peers and professors but has also helped us develop professionally and strengthened our bonds and work ethics. We anticipate our chapter to grow successfully and look forward to motivating students to pursue chemistry not only as a career but as a way of life!

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it grief, fear, isolation, and mental stress, but at the same time, it has given us a great opportunity to explore, to be introspective, and to enhance our inner selves. Initially I felt diffident as a leader, and I experienced self-doubt and criticism; but in the end, I realized that whether it's criticism or COVID-19, situations change us for good and get us near the higher coordinates on the growth curve of life. As the laws of thermodynamics dicate, "Maximum work is achieved when the process is reversible, spontaneous, and goes through infinitesimally small infinite steps,” so does one, in similar fashion, pave a way toward success.

Follow ACS-BCP:

Instagram: @acsbcp

About the Author
Sakshi Yogendra Kasat headshot

Sakshi Yogendra Kasat is a third-year student at Bombay College of Pharmacy, India. She also teaches at U&I Trust, a volunteer-based community organization that educates underprivileged women and children. In addition to her school and volunteer work, Kasat is skilled in Kathak dance and Hindustani vocal classical music.