MIT lab course: Introducing Flow Chemistry into Undergraduate Education

I, along with my postdoctoral adviser Prof. Timothy F. Jamison, developed and implemented a new undergraduate organic chemistry laboratory course at MIT entitled “Continuous Flow Chemistry: Sustainable Conversion of Reclaimed Vegetable Oils into Biodiesel.” The lab course was introduced into the curriculum at MIT (CHEM 5.37) in the Spring of 2015 and 19 students successfully completed the course. The course is expected to run annually for the next decade. A manuscript describing this work has been submitted to the Journal of Chemical Education. A description of the course is as follows:

"The four-week laboratory course leverages the pedagogical value and multidisciplinary nature of biodiesel production from vegetable oil to introduce students to continuous-flow chemistry, a modern and rapidly growing approach to chemical synthesis wherein pumps, tubes, and connectors are the vessels used to conduct chemical reactions instead of flasks, beakers, and other glassware. The series of activities and experiments uses an interdisciplinary approach to expose students to the practical and conceptual aspects of modern continuous-flow chemistry while simultaneously reinforcing core organic chemistry techniques and investing students in issues of sustainability. During the course of the lab, students learn the universal skill of working with syringe pumps, tubing, and connectors to build their own flow reactor and then use it to convert vegetable oil into biodiesel. The students are tasked to screen reaction conditions in-flow in an inquiry-guided approach and make evidence-based decisions to accomplish the sustainable conversion of waste cooking oil into biofuel. By incorporating the burgeoning field of continuous-flow chemistry into the educational infrastructure, the experiments provide opportunities for students to develop skills that are highly valued in the modern chemical workforce."


Childbirth Accomodation Policy at UCSB

Throughout my career I have been invested in removing institutional barriers to diversity. This is best exemplified by my work spearheading an effort at University of California Santa Barbara to enact a Childbirth Accommodation Policy. Previous to this policy, getting a reprieve from a graduate student's educational responsibilities during or after childbirth required taking a formal leave of absence from the University. This resulted in the student losing financial assistance and being cut off from University subsidized health insurance. This policy let down students at their most vulnerable and caused many students to leave graduate school altogether. To enact a policy change, I assembled student groups, founded a formal committee through the Graduate Student Association, and negotiated with the Dean of Students and academic senate. My efforts led to a policy change in less than one year that gave students a one-year deferment of academic responsibilities without taking a leave of absence (Current policy can be found here). Further, students working as teaching assistants or research assistants received four weeks paid leave funded from a central account (not their advisers account). I published a letter in Science describing our efforts and encouraging other universities to follow suite.


Graduate Students for Diversity in the Sciences

My work with the University of California Santa Barbara branch of Graduate Students for Diversity in Science (GSDS) has provided a consistent and long-term infrastructure within which to promote and advocate for diversity. GSDS is a student organization funded by the Dow Chemical Company Foundation that promotes diversity in science and engineering at UCSB. GSDS promotes diversity through two efforts: GSDS (i) organizes a seminar series (three per year) that invites diverse faculty to campus to give both a scientific and diversity lecture and (ii) invites undergraduate students from Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) (10 students three times per year, coinciding with the lecture series) to campus to inform them about graduate school and introduce them to research at UCSB. In my role as outreach coordinator (2008-2010) I established contact with professors at HSIs, solicited applications from undergraduates for our program, and led a team of ten graduate students to organize and execute the outreach program. In my role as president of GSDS (2010-2012), I led the organization of 50+ graduate students to maintain and expand our diversity efforts, secured continued funding from the Dow Foundation, and established an organizational structure to ensure the long-term continuity of GSDS. I received the prestigious 2009 Materials Research Laboratory Diversity Fellowship for my leadership efforts within GSDS.


Chemistry & the Developing World: Graduate Student Symposium Planning Committee

I co-organized and planned a symposium entitled Chemistry and the Developing World at the 2010 ACS National Meeting in San Francisco.  The responsibilities for the symposium, part of the ACS Graduate Student Symposium Planning Committee effort, included topic selection, fundraising, speaker recruitment, planning, execution, and picking the following-years group. By assembling a group of world-class speakers from both developed and developing nations, we showcased innovations designed to improve quality of life in impoverished regions and to illustrate the benefits and challenges of conducting scientific research in these areas. Our goal was to bring the growth of science in the developing world to the attention of the international scientific community and garner support for this critical need.