The Reed Student Chapter ACS at this year’s periodic table cupcake decorating event.
Photo by Cass Biles
The ACS (American Chemical Society) Reed Student chapter is up and rolling with its third annual periodic table cupcake event! While the organization has been on a semester hiatus due to both members at the time studying abroad, it is back and ready to host chemistry-themed events for anyone interested in the subject. The student chapter is led by Emilie Badener (‘24) and Deepika Shingwekar (‘24), and serves to organize community events, facilitate communication between students, faculty, and the chemistry department, and, as Shingwekar stated, to “spread the joys of chemistry to the Reed college community.”
The club was founded in the early 2010s, and while it was originally officially linked to the American Chemical Society, it no longer is. The initial creation of the club was in response to faculty-student disconnect, and functioned as a way to address some of the toxic behaviors within the department at the time. Shingwekar states that “the club started as a mediation between the faculty and students, to try and get everyone on the same page.” While both Badener and Shingwekar now acknowledge the incredible strides the chemistry department has made in its student relations, they still emphasize the club’s role as a mediator of student voices and communication with the chemistry department. Members will often attend Faculty meetings, where students are “giv[en] a voice…and invit[ed] to share their experiences in intro chem with the higher-ups,” as stated by Badener. This role also extends into issues of accessibility in chemistry and STEM as a whole. “[We’re trying to] make STEM classes in general more accessible for people of all backgrounds” Badener states, with the club itself being involved in the chemistry department’s commitment to diversity, equitability, and inclusion. By working with chemistry or chemistry-affiliated students and faculty, the club attempts to “help bring marginalized and underrepresented students to chemistry itself…and not make them feel disenfranchised or not included in the department,” says Shingwekar.
The two also cited social stigma and past trauma as another way accessibility can be impaired in STEM. Badener stated that ACS events are “aimed to show the wider Reed community that chemistry is not necessarily something that they always have to be scared of.” She continued…“I think a lot of people come to Reed with a lot of really bad chemistry experiences from high school…and there’s this disconnect that is perceived between chemistry faculty or chemistry majors, or STEM majors and the rest of the school.” Dr. Nicole James, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and faculty advisor to the ACS, seconds this sentiment…“I think people are terrified of chemistry. The first three weeks, at least, of my classes are just trying to build back trust with my students, and unpack, to some degree, the trauma they have experienced in their prior chemistry classes.” While emphasizing that there is no one to “blame” for that, she recognizes that chemistry students often need to repair their connection to the discipline due to either initial bad experiences from high school, or a general apprehension due to STEM culture.
The ACS, therefore, aims its events to introduce chemistry and the chemistry department into students’ lives in a fun and community-centered way. As Badener states, “it’s nice to have something to talk about that isn’t just how hard a problem set is.”
In addition to improving accessibility, the ACS focuses on improving students’ general experience and quality of life within the chemistry department. At their first meeting this semester, the club ordered new supplies for the chemistry lounge, such as coffee, tea, and creamer, as well as new whiteboard markers. On top of that, they are designing chemistry major tee-shirts, which will be tie-dyed at Renn Fayre. For the ACS, it’s all about channeling student voices, whether that be in faculty feedback or in funding distribution, and, as Shingwekar argues, “The school has money…and people should have a voice in how their money gets spent.”
Badener also advises students to be on the lookout for “nitrogen day,” which is scheduled to happen on April 20. During this event, students will have the opportunity to play with liquid nitrogen, make ice cream, and “freeze hot dogs..and then throw them.”
In her closing remarks, Shingwekar sums up the club as one which strives to present chemistry at its best. “We’re trying to bring chemistry to the reed community, trying to bring what chemistry can be without making it intimidating or inaccessible, trying to share the joy of it.”
If you want to get involved with the ACS, events are posted on the Chem major’s Moodle and advertised on flyers around campus. If you don’t have access to the chem major Moodle, you can email either Badener or Shingwekar directly to join the ACS mailing list or follow the ACS Instagram at @reed.acs.