“I try to show my students that there is more to a job than what is in the job description,” says Laura Pence, a professor of chemistry in the University of Hartford’s College of Arts and Sciences. Pence was recently elected to the board of directors of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society and has begun a three-year term.
“I want them to see that a career is not a one-dimensional thing,” she says, adding that everything she does outside of the classroom is reflected in her teaching. “My goal is for students to get something extra out of my classes, and to learn those extras from the life and career experiences that I have had,” she adds.
Those extras may be part of the reason why Pence is so popular with students. In 2014, RateMyProfessors.com’s list of top university professors in the country had Pence at number 20. The annual ranking list is based entirely on students’ input. Pence, who won the University’s Roy E. Larsen Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2006, teaches courses ranging from introductory chemistry for science and non-science majors to advanced environmental chemistry and chemical synthesis.
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 158,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals, and scientific conferences.
“Being a chemist is being part of a vibrant group of innovators who are never content with the status quo. We constantly ask how something can be better. Better medicines and materials. Better education for our students. Better processes that are safer, use less energy and produce less waste,” says Pence.
Pence began her “extra” work with ACS in 1987, when she spent two years developing the programming for a conference on the theme of “Chemistry for a Sustainable World.” She has also been chair of the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement, an advisor on the ACS Green Chemistry Institute Governing Board, and a prestigious ACS/AAAS Congressional Science Policy Fellow in 2013 when she worked in the office of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) for a year. She is the first Science Policy Fellow to serve on the ACS Board of Directors.
Running for election to the board was a new experience. She was running against an incumbent member of the board. She turned to others at the University for information and assistance, including Susan Grantham, professor of public relations and co-director of the School of Communication. Grantham helped Pence craft the messaging for her campaign materials.
Being part of the ACS board will be challenging, but very exciting, Pence says. “The chemical industry is changing, and I believe that I will be able to help the board as now they have a member who is training the next generation of chemists,” she says.
And, of course, all of these experiences have found their way into Pence’s classes. “As I tell my students, say ‘Yes” to the right opportunities and you can grow into the roles that you want.”