Michigan GSSPC. From left to right: Karen Montoya, Khoi Dang, Ellen Mulvihill, Janelle Kirsch, Elvin Salerno, and Allison Roessler

Since 2006, committees of graduate students at universities across the United States have organized the Graduate Student Symposium, which takes place at each American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting. Each symposium has featured a range of high-level guests, from Nobel Laureates to Fortune 50 scientists and distinguished professors from around the globe.

For the first time, the students organizing this session will come from the University of Michigan. “It is a big honor to be able to do this,” said Allison Roessler, the chair of the Graduate Student Symposium Planning Committee (GSSPC). The GSSPC is made up of fourth-years Roessler, Janelle Kirsch and Ellen Mulvihill; second-years Karen Montoya and Elvin Salerno; and first-year Khoi Dang.

Roessler, a member of the Zimmerman group, explained that she knew a graduate student from another university who prepared the Graduate Student Symposium at the Fall 2018 ACS Meeting. “It seemed like a really great opportunity,” she said, “so I started asking graduate students around the department to see if anyone would be interested in working to put together a proposal.” In late November, they were notified that their proposal for the Spring 2020 National Meeting was chosen, and they began their planning process for the event.

The symposium theme is “Smart Materials: From Stimuli to Response”. Smart Materials are products that are explicitly designed to respond to external stimuli, such as light or heat, and then return to their original state after the stimuli is removed. An everyday example is Transitions® lenses, which darken when exposed to sunlight, returning to their unshaded state in the absence of sunlight. Smart Materials have many applications, and the study of this field includes researchers from across chemistry and engineering.

In their mission statement, the Michigan GSSPC explains that their goal for this symposium is to bring together a diverse set of experts to showcase the recent advances and current challenges in the field of Smart Materials. Recognizing that advancement comes with collaboration, they aim to feature speakers with diverse backgrounds in technical training, professional settings, and personal backgrounds (race, gender, and ethnicity) in order to move the field of Smart Materials forward. To achieve their mission, the GSSPC organized the format of the Spring 2020 symposium to feature ten speakers who study Smart Materials through theoretical, computational, biological, materials, and polymer science.

Although the symposium will not take place until March 2020, the students have been hard at work on the planning process. Montoya, the Marketing Chair of the GSSPC, and a member of the Walter group, explained that the “symposium is completely run by graduate students. We get speakers and funding from scratch. We do all the behind-the-scenes work.” Montoya has started a Twitter account and a website to keep followers updated with developments in their work.

Fundraising and speaker contact are major components of the preparation that the students will be doing. Salerno, a member of the Pecoraro group, is the Fundraising and Finance Chair for the committee. Mulvihill, a member of the Geva group, is working as a Speaker Liaison for the GSSPC, reaching out to speakers and coordinating with them.

Kirsch, a member of the Wolfe group, is the Logistics Coordinator for the GSSPC, organizing the scheduling and day-of coordination for the symposium. She explained that while the GSSPC is the sole organizational body for this symposium, the Chemistry Department has been extremely supportive. “All the professors that we have talked to are really excited about this opportunity,” she said. Roessler mentioned that leveraging the reach of the Chemistry Department has been important for their work saying that “many of our faculty have great connections with different companies and people in the field that may be interested in being involved with our process.”

Khoi Dang, a first-year Physical Chemistry student, is the committee’s ACS Correspondent. He interfaces with the ACS Chemical Education Division, and performs the documentation for the group. This documentation will be passed down to the Spring 2021 GSSPC - which will be determined and mentored by the Spring 2020 GSSPC from Michigan. This year-to-year mentoring across universities drives collaboration and connection between students across the country, and allows the program to deliver strong sessions that are completely student-run. Michigan’s GSSPC will be heading to the Spring 2019 ACS meeting to visit the Louisiana State University GSSPC, the organizers of this year’s Graduate Student Symposium.

The work involved in putting together this symposium is extensive, but the students are excited to hone skills that will be practical for their future careers. “Networking is necessary to find a postdoc position or a job in academia,” Mulvihill mentioned. “We are also getting a good experience in terms of marketing, financing, and planning a large event,” Kirsch added. Working with a diverse team to put on the event is also a concrete example of the collaboration and teamwork needed in the workforce. “Collaboration and teamwork are key... I trust this team already,” Salerno said of the GSSPC. “It’s nice to work with a great group of motivated people. Everyone is doing their job really well,” Roessler added.

If you are interested in learning more about the Michigan Graduate Student Symposium Planning Committee or to stay updated on their progress, please visit their Twitter account or their website. With any questions, contact the committee via email at MichiganGSSPC@umich.edu. The Michigan GSSPC is operating under the Chemical Education Division of the American Chemical Society, and has nonprofit 501(c)(3) status.

Taylor Soucy is a Chemistry Graduate Student Communications Fellow.