Amy Kuhn ’15, current vice president, describes programs that have won UC San Diego’s student chapter several awards from the national professional organization.
The way their eyes narrow as they concentrate on improving the movements of a robotic car. The flash of understanding as they comprehend the life cycle of salmon. The way they cheer and burst forth with questions after a compelling chemistry demonstration. These are the moments that those of us passionate about science education live for—the moments where outreach truly gets through to students. For the American Chemical Society-Student Affiliate here at UC San Diego, this is the most important thing we do.
ACSSA, a student chapter of the American Chemical Society, is both a pre-professional society for undergraduate students in chemistry and a service organization working to better the local science community. We meet weekly for talks by guest speakers from industry and academe, and hold quarterly student-faculty mixers, laboratory and brewery tours along with social events like laser tag and kayaking. We also help interested members prepare for leadership roles in the club through an internship program. These activities offer fantastic networking opportunities with professors and industry professionals and a place for building relationships with fellow science students.
Our club’s service events include beach clean ups and community garden work as well as our primary focus, outreach. Each year ACSSA participates in ChemExpo, an event for local middle and high school students put on by the San Diego professional chapter of ACS. The officers of the club host exciting on-stage demonstrations, and other ACSSA volunteers spend the day doing smaller science demonstrations and answering questions.
This year the event theme was candy, so in our show we explained the differences between sweeteners in diet and regular soda, why Pop Rocks pop and react with soda, and how pH indicators work—by creating solutions that looked like lemonade and a sports drink. About fifty students and parents watched our demonstrations this year, with many more attending the event as a whole.
“ChemExpo offered a chance to share my passion for chemistry with middle and high school students, transitioning them from neutral to excited about science,” said Nawal Abou Zahr, co-chair of publicity for the chapter and a former intern who credits the event with sparking her further interest in the organization. “I enjoyed ChemExpo so much that I wanted to get more involved in ACSSA so I could further give back to the San Diego community.”
Another of ACSSA’s yearly service opportunities is Expanding Your Horizons, an event that pairs female college students in science with girls aged 11 to 16 years. Our volunteers accompany groups of girls to workshops on a wide variety of topics like robotic engineering, marine biology, brain chemistry and computer science. The event, held each March at the University of San Diego, provides an environment for girls to get excited about science and engineering while surrounded by mentors in those fields. This is my favorite event of the year; I truly love meeting such bright, passionate girls who are curious about the scientific world. I attended this event in Northern California when I was in middle school, and it is so rewarding to encourage the next generation of female STEM students the way I was once encouraged.
ACSSA’s capstone event is our Undergraduate Research Symposium, where students present posters describing their chemical research and discuss their projects with chemical industry professionals and professors from many different disciplines. These guests judge the presentations and select several for awards. Participation can count towards an honors designation at graduation thanks to the involvement of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the event provides a great networking opportunity for presenters and guests alike.
“As an undergrad it’s easy to lose sight of the significance and scale of our experiences in lab,” said Cole Carter, who as external chair coordinates outreach programs and acts as a liaison between the club and the broader community. “The Undergraduate Research Symposium is the time that we get to reflect and put all our work into perspective and truly appreciate that even before we graduate, we’re already doing something meaningful with our degrees. It not only gives us the formal experience of presenting our research, but it allows us to appreciate and celebrate our successes and failures.”
This year, the research symposium will be even more ambitious as UC San Diego will host the ACS Southern California Undergraduate Research Conference on April 11. This event is open to participants and guests from many different universities.
Because of great events like these, for two years running ACSSA has won awards from national ACS for being both an Outstanding Chapter and a Green Chapter. But beyond this recognition, UC San Diego’s ACSSA allows science students to give back to the San Diego community in concrete, meaningful ways while still in college. Our hope is that we help our members succeed professionally while also exposing them to the joys of educating and encouraging the next generation of scientists.ACSSA officers Adrienne Desens, Leon Zhou, Cole Carter, Karan Patel, Levi Miller, Amy Kuhn and Adela Ma, prepared to demonstrate the chemistry of candy at ChemExpo earlier this year.