My Experience at the ACS Leadership Institute

Sandi Dang spends the majority of her time studying chemistry and mathematics at TCU, and is also the NCW coordinator for the Dallas-Forth Worth Section of ACS. During her spare time, she is a crew member at Trader Joe’s. Whenever she is not working or studying, she spends her time looking at Corgis and pandas online, eating, and catching up on Big Bang Theory. The future is still an open book.

I am a part of all that I have met.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

When I first heard about the American Chemical Society (ACS) Student Leadership Award in the fall of 2011, I was your typical junior chemistry major at Texas Christian University (TCU).  At the time, our student chapter barely had its feet on the ground.  We were still in the midst of organizing our first collaboration project with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, trying to retain members, and hosting a seminar speaker. I wasn’t even sure I could qualify for the Leadership Award, but I figured, why not, and I threw my name into the hat.

I’m glad I did. My decision to apply and attend has had a profound impact on my life and has contributed to my development as a student, chemist, leader, and individual.  Because I was awarded the Leadership Award, I met an amazing group of people, contributed to ACS Undergraduate Programming, and learned valuable professional skills. And it all started with an application and a drive across town.

One of the many perks of receiving the award is the all-expense-paid trip to the ACS Leadership Institute. I didn’t get the full benefit of this perk, as I was 5 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, but I met student winners from New Jersey, New York, Boston, and even Puerto Rico who did. I got to stay in the hotel, where the Institute was being held, which gave me the opportunity to meet and spend time with many other student leaders outside of the Institute.

From left to right: Marisa Sanders, The College of New Jersey; Sandi Dang, Texas Christian University; and Christine Dunne, Northeastern University

The first morning of the Institute, I woke up feeling both excitement and anxiety. As the first person at TCU to win this award, I didn’t know what to expect. I drove to Fort Worth with a suitcase filled with business casual attire and a “just in case” outfit. I walked into the hotel, checked in, and just tried to absorb it all. For the first time in a long time I felt like a little kid again; I was going to be around people who are incredibly influential in the chemistry world.

I dropped my suitcase off in my room and took a big bag filled with my camera, phone, notepad, pen, and pencil downstairs to meet with all of the student leaders who were attending the Institute. I walked into the room, and that’s when it really hit me that, as one of the 17 students to attend, I was really fortunate. I found my seat near the front of the room, where I met Marisa from New Jersey, Sarah from Pennsylvania, and Jodi Wesemann from the ACS Education Division. We chatted over a light lunch, and then the Institute started in earnest.

Our schedules were filled with events such as the local section session, the undergraduate session, a leadership course, and networking sessions. During the local section session, I met with the 2012 Chair Elect of the Dallas-Fort Worth Section, Moji Bonakdar, a chemist and Senior Director at Alcon. We discussed the role of student members participating in local section activities and how we could work together to better serve both undergraduates and the local section. Moji and I continue to stay in touch to share opportunities to raise awareness of chemistry in our community.

The most interesting, and what I found to be the most helpful, sessions were the undergraduate sessions. During these sessions, we discussed what we wanted to see in inChemistry magazine, how we could get involved with the publication, issues that each of our student chapters encountered, and possible solutions to our obstacles. For example, one very common issue faced by student chapters is funding for outreach activities. Collectively, the 17 of us came up with a ideas for funding, including sales of goggle, baked goods, and T-shirts. In addition, we discussed another common student chapter obstacle, member retention. Together, we compiled a list of tangible activities to help retention, which included providing members the opportunity to work with children, creating new chapter leadership positions to give members a sense of ownership, and recognizing members at the end of the year with an awards banquet. Our brainstorming gave all of the student leaders a better sense of direction and purpose for our respective chapters.

ACS Student Leader Award Winners, with Undergraduate Programs Staff

During these sessions, I realized the value of the ACS and the resources that ACS provides to its members. Prior to the Leadership Institute, I joined ACS because I felt like it was something that was required of me. But thanks to the Leadership Institute, I understand that my membership in ACS is an investment. It allows me access to various resources, including demonstrations, professional development, and funding. Little did I know that ACS has an entire committee dedicated to professional development, providing personal career consulting, mock interviews, and various development courses. In addition, being a part of ACS gives me access to databases of research opportunities, various technical divisions, and many other helpful resources that I can’t even begin to list.

Another really valuable skill I learned at the ACS Leadership Institute was how to effectively network. I previously attended a networking seminar co-hosted by my student chapter and career services at TCU. So while I had some idea of what to expect when it came to networking, the idea was still an intimidating one. My first few conversations were extremely awkward, but I got better with each person I talked to. By the time I talked to ACS President Elect- Marinda Wu, I was much more comfortable, and we had a delightful conversation.

The entire weekend felt like a blur; I experienced and grew so much, both personally and professionally, in just two days. Prior to the Leadership Institute, I was afraid to introduce myself to someone I didn’t know. I was afraid to delegate tasks to others. I was not confident collaborating with others. Now, I confidently introduce myself to others, and I am a master of collaboration. Moreover, the connection I made at the Leadership Institute with Moji Bonakdar allowed me to become heavily involved with our local section, and as a result, I am the National Chemistry Week Coordinator for the Dallas-Fort Worth Section.

To this day, I keep up with all of the 2012 winners through Facebook. We even caught up with each other at a recent ACS National Meeting. Whenever I look back on my experience at the Leadership Institute, a quote from Conan O’Brien comes to mind: “No one in life gets what they thought they were going to get, but if you work hard and you’re really kind, amazing things will happen.”

If I could give anyone advice, it would be to apply for this award! The deadline is November 2, 2012. Apply today!

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3 thoughts on “My Experience at the ACS Leadership Institute

  1. Sandi

    I just read this. I’m so glad to know that you had a great experience at the ACS LI—& that the people you met & what you learned continue to be important to you. After 40+ active years in ACS, I feel the same way! I wish you all the best!

    Kathleen Schulz, ACS Director-at-Large

  2. @Kathleen: Thank you for taking the time to read this! The memories and skills that I have shared in the Leadership Institute will always play a huge roll in my life.

    @Christine: I know it was a great experience, and I got the chance to meet you 🙂 I hope all is going well you and your student chapter 🙂

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