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UW-Eau Claire ranks high nationally in number of chemistry graduates

RELEASED: Sept. 17, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduates more students with bachelor's degrees in chemistry than most other colleges and universities in the country that offer only undergraduate chemistry programs, according to the American Chemical Society.

UW-Eau Claire was ranked third nationally — the highest of any Wisconsin college or university — in the number of chemistry graduates among the 339 colleges and universities that offer ACS-approved undergraduate chemistry programs, the ACS's Committee on Professional Training determined in its analysis. Colleges and universities that also offer master's or doctoral programs in chemistry were not included in the tally.

Fifty-one UW-Eau Claire students graduated with bachelor's degrees in chemistry during the 2008-09 timeframe used by ACS-CPT to develop its rankings.

"This is not a one-time thing — in recent years we've consistently been ranked among the top six programs in the nation in the number of undergraduate chemistry graduates," said Dr. Michael Carney, a chemistry professor who also earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from UW-Eau Claire. "With a long-standing reputation as one of the best public regional universities in the Midwest, UW-Eau Claire attracts bright and ambitious students, many of whom are choosing to study chemistry."

Some chemistry majors come to campus specifically to study chemistry but others discover the program after they get here, said Carney, noting that there are currently 322 students declared as chemistry, chemistry-teaching, chemistry-business or biochemistry/molecular biology majors.

Senior Erin Stuckert came to UW-Eau Claire because of the chemistry department's reputation for academic excellence and its many opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct research with their professors.

"I knew I wanted to be a chemistry major and I liked what I had heard from people about UW-Eau Claire's chemistry program," Stuckert, a chemistry and mathematics major from New Auburn, said of her decision to attend UW-Eau Claire. "But a big reason I picked UW-Eau Claire over other schools was the student-faculty research program. For a school this size, it has one of the largest and best student-faculty research programs."

Since the 1970s, the chemistry department has used student-faculty collaborative research to teach chemistry, said Carney, who serves as chair of the department. Providing undergraduate students with meaningful research opportunities has been a huge draw for students, he said. During this past summer alone, more than 50 chemistry students worked as paid researchers on a variety of faculty-led projects, he said.

"Working side-by-side with a faculty member, our chemistry majors have opportunities to tackle unsolved research problems and use state-of-the-art equipment, comparable to what can often be found only in graduate programs," Carney said. "Along the way, our majors gain a deeper understanding of chemistry and are able to explore scientific research as a career option."

Stuckert said the chemistry department — especially its research program — has exceeded her high expectations.

"The longer I've been here, the more I like what the chemistry program has to offer," Stuckert said. "The research program teaches students how to think through a problem. In my research group, we began with a professor telling us details about what he wanted us to accomplish. Now, he tells us the problem and it's our job to figure out how to solve it."

Students often present their research at conferences throughout the country, something few undergraduate students at other schools are able to do, Stuckert said.

"As research students, we get to travel to present our findings and to learn about what other scientists are doing around the nation," Stuckert said. "Conferences are an excellent way to learn about other projects, possible job opportunities or about different graduate schools."

Michael Zenner, a junior chemistry major from Chippewa Falls, is among the chemistry majors who will present research during the 2010-11 academic year. He will share his work during a national conference in Anaheim, Calif., in the spring.

The research opportunities have been valuable, as have the small class sizes and the faculty's willingness to meet with him one-on-one, Zenner said. The individual attention makes for a more personal learning environment, which is among the reasons he opted to study at UW-Eau Claire instead of a larger school, he said.

"I came into college without the intent of going to graduate school," said Zenner, who has been interested in studying chemistry since middle school. "But after getting involved in research and talking with my professors, I've decided to further my education. I'm applying to several graduate schools for the fall."

For Mike McAnally, a senior chemistry and mathematics major from Chippewa Falls, it was a chemistry class early in his college career that prompted him to re-think his career goals.

"When I came here, I was sure I wanted to be a doctor of medicine, but after my first chemistry class I realized there were way cooler avenues of science to follow," McAnally said."I was hooked in that first class and have been pursuing chemistry as a career ever since."

Helping students identify and prepare for whatever path is right for them is a priority among the chemistry faculty, Carney said.

"We're all extremely interested in the process of uncovering knowledge, but we're also extremely interested in educating students," Carney said of chemistry faculty. "We do everything we can to get students ready for their careers, whether they plan to go into medicine, business or research. We want them to be prepared to take that next step."

The ACS-CPT rankings were reported in a recent issue of ACS's Chemical and Engineering News. The data table in which UW-Eau Claire is listed as well as the related article can be viewed online.

For more information about UW-Eau Claire's chemistry programs, contact Dr. Mike Carney at 715-836-3500 or carneymj@uwec.edu.

-30-

JB/DW

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