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Inspiring a Green Chemistry Revolution: The 2023 ACS Summer School

ACSGCI
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ACS Green Chemistry Institute and a network of thought leaders created a transformative space for students to learn and connect in 2023.

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“We want students to know that they are lifetime members of the green chemistry and sustainability community. We expect them to take the knowledge and skills they’ve learned at the summer school with them and to talk to colleagues and faculty at their home institutions. We want them to become groundbreakers and innovators. We want to see them engaging with the broader green chemistry community and pointing their careers in a direction that emphasizes the fundamental tenets of green chemistry and sustainability. These are some of the messages we tried to convey this summer.”

When David Laviska talks about the 2023 ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy, he consistently emphasizes the profound impact the program has — on the students who attend, but also on the broader community. As the Portfolio Manager for Green Chemistry & Sustainability in Education, Laviska worked closely with fellow ACS colleague Chanelle Bragg (office of the ACS COO) in programming and organizing the Summer School - an annual event marking its 20th Anniversary in 2023.

IMG_8430.jpgThe Summer School offers a unique week-long opportunity for selected students from North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean to engage in lectures provided by professors and industry experts on sustainable chemistry, participate in interactive sessions, discussions, and poster presentations, and build valuable connections with fellow participants. Hosted at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, this all-expenses-paid program is funded by the American Chemical Society, ACS Petroleum Research Fund, and the ACS Green Chemistry Institute. Previous program graduates have gone on to become influential figures in the fields related closely to green chemistry and engineering, offering a valuable network for current participants. Sixty-two students attended this year.

The Summer School provides a full week of programming, including instructional sessions from some of the world’s foremost experts in green chemistry. Sessions in 2023 touched on a broad spectrum of topics ranging from green chemistry education principles to photovoltaics to greener solvents to green chemical engineering.

“It's a very tricky process,” says Laviska of curating the Summer School’s programming. “A lot of it relies on the generosity of instructors. We're very fortunate to have exceptionally generous professionals who are willing to dedicate their time to the students who attend.”

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Experts featured at this year’s program included John Warner, Amy Cannon, Amy Prieto, Joan Brennecke, Philip Jessop, Jakub Kostal, Kate Beers, Susannah Scott, Bruce Lipshutz, Audrey Moores, and three of the GCI staff: Adelina Voutchkova, Isamir Martinez, and Laviska. “All the instructors really knocked it out of the park,” says Laviska. “We had a wonderful diversity of topics and types of careers represented among our experts. I was so impressed by their teaching skill and how well they communicated chemistry concepts as well as passion for their work.”

While the instructors form the backbone of the Summer School’s programming, the students are ultimately responsible for the overall success of the event. This year, nearly 200 graduate students and postdocs applied to attend, making a daunting task of restricting attendance to 62 of the very best applicants. The final 2023 list of attendees comprised students from 11 countries and 21 states, all up for a challenging and transformative week of learning and networking.

“We couldn't have hoped for a better group of students,” says Laviska. “They were fully engaged throughout the program and many have continued communicating with us since then.”

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The students themselves reported finding immense value in the Summer School. In a post-summer school follow-up survey, all 62 attendees rated the overall program as “very good” or “outstanding”. Many students also shared their written reactions:

“The entire program was a great experience to learn about a lot of new things that I haven’t thought about before, but are applicable to my area of research,” wrote one.

“I really enjoyed the collaborative and friendly environment,” wrote another. “I've always been tense talking to professors and others who are more senior in my field, but this experience really humanized them, and I was able to relax and have good conversations.”

“The most impactful part of this summer school was the fact that we are not alone in this journey,” wrote another. “I have met many genuinely good people who can guide and support me on this green path.”

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Fortunately, the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy will return in 2024; planning is already underway and will incorporate some exciting changes. The application portal for next summer will open this fall (application deadline: January 31, 2024). But for now, Laviska is grateful for the opportunity to reflect on an event that surpassed his highest expectations.

“The entire GCI team worked hard to honor the history of the Summer School and carry on the legacy of our ACS predecessors who envisioned a transformative student experience. I believe we succeeded in achieving those goals” says Laviska. “We were also fortunate to have amazing instructors and the students were phenomenal. Even the weather was perfect — sunny every day!”