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The 20th annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference – Perspectives of a First-time Attendee

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Contributed by Dr. Karen Goodwin, Professor, Centralia College

In July of this year, I had the opportunity to be a first-time attendee at the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, held in Portland, Oregon. Now in its 20th year, this is the first time the conference was held on the west coast. As a professor at a small community college in Washington state, the fact that this conference was held close to home was one of the primary factors that allowed me to attend.

The three-day event was packed with technical sessions, spanning education, research, synthesis, business, and industry. This variety made it easy to find talks that were of interest, and brought together chemists and engineers from every corner of our field. The social events provided many opportunities for networking, and because of the wide variety of attendees, the conversations were fascinating. For me, talking with colleagues about what is going on at the front lines of chemistry and engineering gave me real-life examples to use in my classrooms. It was also gratifying to be able to talk about chemistry education, and to hear the perspective of the people that will be interviewing and hiring my students in the future.

There were several technical sessions that focused on green chemistry in education. At my institution, I instruct both general and organic chemistry, so I was pleased to find talks that included curriculum for both of these courses. One of the sessions, led by Jane Wissinger, focused specifically on education resources involving polymers and plastics. Having a session such as this, with talks on a specific common theme, allowed attendees to hear from speakers at a variety of institutions. This diversity assured that no matter what the restrictions of your individual laboratory, there was certain to be an experiment or lesson that you could put immediately into your curriculum. Another session, Design of State of the Art GC Curricula, led by Jim Hutchison, focused on infusing green chemistry into chemistry programs. Starting with an overview of the Green Chemistry Education Roadmap by Jim, the talks focused on the approaches that are being taken at a variety of schools around the country, and provided specific resources to help curriculum designers in planning their own courses. The final session I attended was the Design of Curricular Materials - Rapid Fire session, again led by Jane Wissinger. I had the opportunity to present in this session, and as this was my first time presenting at a major conference, the rapid fire format was perfect for me. By having each speaker limited to 10 minutes, attendees were able to hear more talks, and to be presented with very specific lessons and labs that are being used right now in classrooms around the country. Each of these sessions were well attended, and being able to share ideas and teaching philosophies with educators from so many different institutions was an amazing experience.

The final event of the conference was a Pub Crawl, which was new to this conference. The event broke up attendees into groups with similar interests (educators, industrial chemists, etc.) and provided a nearby pub location for each. The groups, each with a leader to facilitate conversation, walked to the pub and spent the next few hours networking and sharing ideas. The off-site locations made for a more relaxed atmosphere than can usually be achieved at a conference location, and was just a very laid-back way to end the day before heading home. It was nice to be able to explore some of the city of Portland, while still being able to get in a final visit with new-found colleagues.

I came away from this experience with a renewed energy, and so many ideas for further improvement of my green chemistry curriculum. I strongly encourage any educator considering implementing green chemistry into their courses to attend this conference in the future—whether you are already a part of the green chemistry community, or just want to find out more, there will be something of interest to you. The passion for relevant and high-quality instruction was evident in all the talks that I attended in the education track.  Overall, the green chemistry “crowd” is very welcoming—it was evident that there were many years of camaraderie among most of the participants, but this first-time attendee was welcomed in with open arms. I am hopeful that the success of the event will mean that it is held on the west coast again!

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