Public outreach is a great opportunity to teach people of all ages, especially our youth, the importance of chemistry and how it relates to the world. Clear communications from scientists can extinguish negative perceptions and misleading information and educate the public about important scientific milestones. Specifically, teaching the uses of chemistry in new materials, medicine, energy, agriculture, and the environment can inevitably improve the lives of future generations.
Lori Stepan, associate teaching professor of chemistry and chair of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Community Activities, has represented Penn State Chemistry in many outreach efforts. In early October, Stepan was an invited facilitator at the first inaugural ACS Outreach Summit in Washington, DC. There, she had the opportunity to share her expertise as an experienced outreach facilitator with other chemists from around the world.
“Our future depends on chemistry outreach,” said Stepan. “Young people that have been encouraged to experiment become adults that trust scientists and the scientific method. Many of them may even become scientists themselves. A pro-science population becomes especially important when we consider the environmental issues facing the world. We need scientists and nonscientists to work together to solve global problems, such as climate change and the prevalence of microplastics.”
The ACS Outreach Summit is a chemistry education training program that provides an opportunity for chemists who do science outreach to interact with other volunteers in their region through in-person programming and beyond through virtual networking sessions.
At the summit, Stepan collaborated with Ingrid Montes, professor of chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico–Río Piedras, to present information on logistics, budgeting and fundraising, marketing, safety, venue, equipment, recruitment, and implementation of outreach events for families and the public. They demonstrated and practiced a number of hands-on activities for the participants that complemented this year's National Chemistry Week theme of "The Healing Power of Chemistry". This was followed by a discussion on resources available from ACS and a virtual networking event with additional participants.
According to Stepan, “the entire ACS Outreach Summit was very successful, with significant positive feedback from participants!”