By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—IU Southeast’s chemistry program has earned re-approval by the American Chemistry Society (ACS).
The approval, considered the gold-standard of chemistry education, ensures that a program is not only scientifically rigorous but also aligned with best professional practices and real-world needs.
Founded in 1876 and chartered by the U.S. Congress, the ACS is the world’s largest scientific society, and the largest chemical organization. Its mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.
As part of this mission, the ACS promotes excellence in chemistry education for undergraduate students through approval of baccalaureate chemistry programs. The process has been in place since 1940. Today some 680 programs are approved in the U.S.
ACS-approved programs offer a broad-based and rigorous chemistry education that gives students intellectual, experimental, and communication skills to become effective scientific professionals in a variety of technical fields, according to the ACS.
“Employers and graduate schools recognize this certification,” said Dr. Jan M. Fleischer, senior lecturer in chemistry and coordinator of the chemistry program at IU Southeast. “If you’re looking for a job in industry, it is something to put on your resume—it says that your program has offered you everything that an employer would be looking for.”
While ACS approval is a good recruiting tool, helping an institution attract students that are searching for an education in chemistry that adheres to standards of excellence and consistency, it is also a moment of recognition for a program that has been growing steadily over the past several years.
According to Fleischer, prior to 2010 the chemistry program averaged six graduates per year. After hitting a low of zero graduates in 2007, the program has grown consistently to now having an average of 13 graduates per year, with 17 graduating this academic year. Thanks to a solid ACS-approved curriculum, the addition of a biochemistry track to the B.A. degree, and a lively esprit de corps best exemplified by Dr. Aaron Setterdahl’s “beer chemistry” courses over the past two summers, the department is confident of further growth ahead.
The ACS approval process evaluates all major aspects of the program, including the institutional environment (organization and budget), faculty and staff qualifications, infrastructure (instrumentation, lab safety, computing capabilities), curriculum, undergraduate research opportunities, development of research and communication skills, internships and other student growth opportunities, and much more.
Preparing the approval document involved the entire department, according to Fleischer.
“It was definitely a team effort,” Fleischer said.
The approval is also a valuable diagnostic tool for the department. Responding to a surge in interest in biochemistry, the previous review suggested that IU Southeast strengthen biochemistry offerings. The School of Natural Sciences followed this recommendation, and the chemistry program overall has flourished.
With industry prognosticators sensing a growing need for expertise in polymers, this year’s evaluation suggested that IU Southeast make a course in polymers a requirement. IU Southeast already offers a course in polymers, and the paperwork needed to make it a requirement is in progress.
For Fleischer and her colleagues, working with the ACS has another benefit: self-evaluation.
At the end of every course, students take an ACS standardized test. This helps IU Southeast instructors compare the performance of their students with that of chemistry students across the country.
“This lets us know that the material we are teaching is correct,” Fleischer said. “We don’t teach to the test, but it helps us stay up to date.”
The IU Southeast chemistry graduates have gone on to medical and pharmaceutical school, graduate programs at institutions such as Purdue, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Ohio State and the University of Louisville, as well as directly into a variety of industries. A strong commitment to the standards of the ACS is one reason why the chemistry department is able to place students at the forefront of their field.
Dr. Elaine Haub, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and herself a professor of chemistry, had every confidence the program would be re-approved for certification.
“The chemists work as a team and always have the students’ best interest at the forefront of their decision-making,” Haub said.
Homepage photo: Chemistry major and lab assistant Shawn Green inspects a selection of chemicals.