Alumni gift to support attendance at American Chemical Society conferences inspires students

When chemistry alumnus Ed Thomas, Ph.D. '77 and his wife, Doreen Honegger Thomas, heard that Wayne State University students were unable to afford attending American Chemical Society (ACS) national conferences, they stepped in to generously fund student travel to the ACS conferences in San Diego in 2022 and Indianapolis in 2023.

Wayne State has been introducing chemistry students to ACS since 1943, but in-person gatherings were canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving students without typical net

Ed Thomas and wife Doreen speak with ACS student.

working opportunities. Additionally, social distancing measures made it difficult to host fundraisers for future travel.

Yet the campus chapter continues to be a catalyst for chemistry careers, connecting students to some of the 173,000 active ACS members around the world. Thomas said it is critical to provide students with the opportunity to present posters at the national conference and meet and learn with other ACS members.

"Those are really places where science can be discussed and ideas are exchanged. And then you come back to your lab, and you get to work," said Thomas, a 50-year member of ACS. "Once it's been patented or cleared or approved, you can talk about it even before you publish it, and that's really important."

Sue White '16, M.A. '20, one of two faculty co-advisors for WSU American Chemical Society-Student Affiliates along with James Bour, Ph.D., said the support from Ed and Doreen provided chapter members with an essential learning experience.

"After the pandemic, students really needed networking opportunities and the chance to present," said White. "Opportunities that had typically existed locally were not available, so students needed the national conference to flourish."

After the events, 18 of the attendees sent letters to Ed and Doreen, thanking them for covering their travel, lodging, food and registration expenses. They expressed gratitude for having been exposed to chemistry leaders from across the globe and hearing from luminaries such as Frances H. Arnold, who in 2018 was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Chemistry student Rhea Jude said the Indianapolis conference was her first chance to present research she had worked on for nearly two years.

"The fact that I decided to present nationally was daunting. I was able to work on my public speaking skills as well as network with my fellow researchers and students who visited my poster," Jude said. "I am grateful to Ed and Doreen Thomas for providing me with such an illuminating experience."

Mahmood Khattab '23 said the conference reminded him of all the things he loves about chemistry and encouraged him to continue his education.

"Seeing my peers present gave me a new flame," he said. "My biggest takeaway was that I really do love chemistry and cannot see my future without the chemical world. After the conference, I decided to earn a master's in chemistry just to get more time at Wayne State."

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