Undergraduate students present research to industry partners

June 14, 2021

The Chemistry Undergraduate Research Symposium is an opportunity for undergraduate students to present their research to faculty, colleagues and industry partners. Students create poster presentations of their findings and network with individuals in their field. For many students, the connections built during this event transpire into internships or job opportunities. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this past fall’s Undergraduate Research Symposium was virtual. Nevertheless, Lachelle Waller, Ph.D., Director of Undergraduate Advising and Research at VCU and Chair for the Virginia Section of the American Chemical Society, helped make this event one of the best ones yet.

Tell us about your involvement in the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

The Undergraduate Research Symposium is a wonderful opportunity for our students to get involved and gain leadership experience while making it REAL. The ACS Student Affiliates student organization members apply for the American Chemical Society’s Undergraduate Research Symposium Grant. A committee of faculty advisors assembled from across the country review our chapter’s proposal and make their funding decision. During the first year, our students received partial funding to host the Undergraduate Research Symposium. The second year the students submitted their proposal and received full funding! It was a great experience for everyone involved. As the advisor, I assist with formulating goals of the undergraduate research symposium, provide leadership, but mostly provide support as needed.

How does this event connect the VCU community with industry partners?

The event is open to not only chemistry majors but also STEM majors and the local HBCU American Chemical Society Student Affiliates are invited to attend. We also invite local companies and industry partners to enjoy the student research posters and meet with our chemistry majors to share internships, co-op or job opportunities. Industry partners decorate their table and bring take-away items. We also invite partners from VCU such as career services, Herb Hill with undergraduate research, and the Wellness Center. These are some of the previous partners:

American Chemical Society, Virginia Section
James Branch Cabell Library
VCU Career Services
VCU Undergraduate Research Office
OX & Main Bake Shop
Afton Chemical
Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD)
Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS)
Virginia Department of Health
ACS Younger Chemist Committee
VCU Wellness Center
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

Each year an alum serves as the keynote speaker. The committee identifies candidates. In the past we have had Joseph Robinson (‘17), research assistant at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Ashley Armstrong (‘16), chemist, and Erica Thomas (‘17), chemistry teacher in Richmond.

What is your favorite part of the Undergraduate Research Symposium?

Having the opportunity to witness firsthand the leadership of our chemistry majors is phenomenal! The students are networking and collaborating across campus learning the meaning of teamwork. There are so many different parts associated with making sure the event is a success each year. There is a lot of energy involved and it’s great to see it all come together.

How was the fall 2020 event different from previous semesters?

The fall 2020 event was a virtual event. It was the first time our students have hosted a virtual Undergraduate Research Symposium. I felt the event was a success because students were able to present their work and industry partners participated to ask questions, answer questions, network and provide students with feedback and opportunities for future jobs and internships.

What advice would you offer someone who is considering applying to the next Undergraduate Research Symposium?

I would strongly encourage them to submit an abstract. The registration process has been electronic for the past three years. The ACS Student Affiliates executive board is happy to answer any questions if students have any concerns. During the event, students have the opportunity to network, present their work, learn from others who are doing research, enjoy delicious food and register for the raffle to win cool chemistry prizes. I always encourage students to attend even if they are not presenting research.

What excites and motivates you about your research and work?

Having the opportunity to work with students, faculty and staff excite me. As an advisor, I am a first responder for our students. Making sure the students feel as if they are a part of the RAMily is important to me. We build community and a safe space for students to grow and gain many skills that will benefit them when they graduate and become global citizens utilizing their chemistry knowledge. I enjoy networking and collaborating across campus to identify research opportunities for our students. And I especially enjoy developing service-learning opportunities for our students where they are able to put their knowledge to work.