Importance of ACS Local Sections

The American Chemical Society is an enormous, complex and powerful organization with over 160,000 members, nearly 2,000 employees, 32 technical divisions, ~ 40 high quality journals and two annual National Meetings that typically attract between 10,000 and 18,000 attendees.  Such a large organization can deliver a lot of professional services to its members.  Further, as the world's largest learned scientific society, it can also disseminate scientific knowledge and help optimize the benefits of science and technology on national and global scales.

However, ACS's sheer size and complexity can intimidate new and potential members, especially younger members and students near the start of their careers. I believe that ACS's 187 local sections play a critical role as ACS's local, friendly face; providing opportunities for fellowship, networking, mentoring, learning and leadership in low stress environments. Below I share some of my experiences with the benefits of local section activities, review some of their great strengths and suggest a few opportunities to expand their influence and impact.

Professional Acceptance

I joined the ACS as a second year grad student at Princeton University in 1969.  My first ACS member benefit was the welcome I received at the Princeton Section's meetings.  The section's membership was a healthy mix of academic chemists (primarily from Princeton and Rutgers) and scientists from the many industrial research centers surrounding Princeton (RCA, FMC, Johnson & Johnson, Mobile Oil, American Cyanamid, etc.)   I was surprised by the openness and collegiality of the industrial scientists and excited to hear about the broad range of problems that challenged their chemistry skills.  It was also nice to see that the formal divide between students and faculty that was observed in most university activities often seemed to recede at ACS section meetings.  The local Princeton Section meetings were among the first venues where I was treated as a professional chemist.  That meant a lot to me and I believe it means a lot to many ACS members.

Leadership Opportunities

Like any active volunteer organization each ACS local section has lots to do and is frequently short on volunteers to do it.  They are a great venue for honing leadership skills while accomplishing something useful.  Section meeting planning, local symposia sponsorship, educational outreach efforts, newsletter publication, fundraising and budgeting issues, section awards administration and state and local government contact opportunities all offer chances to join, or lead, a committee.  Local sections also need formal governance. presenting opportunities for election.  I started my ACS volunteer career by agreeing to run for chair-elect of the Northeastern section (NES/ACS), and continued as section chair, nominating committee chair, trustee, and stints as a member and chair of two of that section's major award committees, among other activities.  Without those experiences I would never have earned the privilege to run for ACS president-elect.

Learning Opportunities

My most important duty as the Northeastern Section's chair-elect was to arrange speakers for the section's nine regularly scheduled dinner meetings.  Dynamic speakers addressing interesting and important topics would swell attendance, and the combination of good food, better company and learning something important sent everyone home happy and more knowledgeable.  A poor talk is, at best, a missed opportunity.   Other local section based learning opportunities are also achievable. For instance, the Northeast Section's area is home to an amazing number of innovative biotechnology activities.  So NES/ACS medicinal chemists have long organized a topical focus group that sponsors a very high quality symposium featuring an important medicinal chemistry theme each December.  At the other end of the educational pipeline, during my tenure on the NES/ACS board I worked with several talented educators from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, to develop hands-on chemistry demonstrations for use in elementary and middle school classrooms.  NES/ACS also sponsors summer fellowships for undergraduate chemistry majors who want to do research in local university labs.  The students publish a summary of their summer project in the NES/ACS newsletter, The Nucleus.

Outreach Opportunities

As scientists, we all need to help inform our fellow citizens and our elected officials about the vital role that science, in general, and chemistry, in particular, must play to sustain and enhance our economy, our security, our health and our environment.  Local sections play a major role in activities, like National Chemistry Week, designed to bring chemistry to the public.  We need to work on ways to highlight the beauty and the value of our science the other 51 weeks of the year. One option is science cafes, organized to address and discuss a science topic of public interest in a highly sociable environment.  NES/ACS members living on Cape Cod have recently organized several of these events.

The ACS has a highly professional Office of Public Affairs that actively presents the case for chemistry to the Congress and the Executive branch, as well as few selected state governments.  However, we need to be making the case to many more state and local officials, as well as members of Congress when they are in their home districts.  In 2007-08 I was privileged to serve on an ACS Presidential Task Force on Enhancing Innovation and Competitiveness, organized by ACS President Katie Hunt to explore ways for the ACS to better engage elected officials on the key roles science education, scientific research and technological development must play to secure our future.  Our task force identified the need to better engage local sections in the effort to greatly expand the ACS's outreach efforts to public officials at all levels, from school boards to the Senate.  I would like to work with you to greatly enhance these contacts.

Summary

I believe that ACS local sections are critical to the vitality and sustainability of the entire Society.  I greatly value the fellowship I have enjoyed and the opportunities I have had to contribute to my local section.  I am proud to have received the 2005 Henry A. Hill Memorial Award “for outstanding contributions to the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society and the profession of chemistry.”  If elected, I look forward to working with your local section to maximize its fellowship, leadership, learning and outreach opportunities.  


Chuck Kolb