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   JUNE 2020 ISSUE  

    I: Community Updates
June is Pride Month: Out In Chemistry Launches Website, Hosts Events
    II: Community News
Professor Cathy Murphy, First Woman Department Head
St. Elmo Brady Documentary Wins a Telly Award
OIIR Statement In Response to George Floyd Death
Guest Commentary: I Am So Tired
New Graduate Student Samuel Okyem
Chemistry Researchers Share COVID-19 Projects
SWC Seeks Input on Future Lecture Topics
    III: Upcoming Events
Racializing COVID-19
COVID-19 Webinar Series: Data Privacy and Security
SWC Lecture: Financial Wellness for Graduate Students  
    IV: Resources
How Higher Ed Can Fight Racism
College Leaders Speak Out
Mental Health Article in C&EN



 Logo for the student organization Out In Chemistry

Out in Chem Launches New Website, Hosts Pride Month Events

The newly-organized Out In Chem organization has launched a new website and has planned some events to celebrate Pride Month. Former President Barack Obama officially commemorated the month of June as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month" in 2009.

The first event will be a casual social over Zoom on June 26 at 7 p.m. Details of the second event, which is a talk about LGBTQ+ history in STEM, are still being worked out, so OIC will be sending an e-mail with more information about both events.

Kristopher Benke, co-vice chair of the group, said the purpose of the events is to celebrate Pride Month by getting to know each other in the department.

"And learning about our history and struggles as LGBTQ+ scientists," Benke said.

As mentioned last month, the group has functioned for years in an unofficial capacity, hosting LGBTQ+ socials for members of the department, providing a space for members of the shared community of graduate students and postdocs to meet one another and establish connections.

But now, Out In Chem is an official organization with a logo, website, Twitter account, and 10 board members who meet regularly and are currently planning events throughout the year. The board members, pictured above, are Summer Laffoon, chair; Ian Rinehart, chair; Hannah Toru, vice chair; Benke, vice chair; Elise McCarren, secretary; Annie Esposito, treasurer; Noah Bender, social chair; Imran Rahman, social chair; Professor Lisa Olshansky, faculty advisor; and Alison Wallum, web administrator. 

The group mission is to promote and advocate for the interests of the LGBTQ+ members of the UIUC chemistry department by organizing events, supporting students, showcasing positive role models in the scientific community and generally making it easier to be an LGBTQ+ chemist in the Department of Chemistry at Illinois.

In a group statement, the members explained: "As an LGBTQ+ member of any STEM field, sometimes it's hard to see yourself with a place in academia due to opposition you experience based on identity or expression as well as a lack of representation from people with shared experiences. We hope to change this by simply existing as an active organization, creating a sense of community and support, and showcasing role models from the LGBTQ+ community who are also successful chemists. We hope to accomplish the latter by hosting an annual research seminar featuring a prominent ‘out’ chemist.”

Also, the group said as representatives from student groups become increasingly involved in shaping department policies, OIC's presence as an official organization secures a seat at the table.

"We hope the legitimacy and visibility of Out in Chem will create a safer and more inclusive environment for LGBT students, faculty, and staff who come after us,” the group said.

OIC is also planning support group meetings and an annual Out In Chem Research Seminar. The support group will allow students to discuss obstacles in their professional lives and connect with others who share the same experiences. The gatherings will be held at a nearby off-campus location at least twice per semester starting in the fall, and in coming months, OIC will provide more information on how LGBTQ+ students in the department can get involved.

And watch for more details about the first research seminar speaker, Carolyn Bertozzi, who recently accepted OIC’s invitation to visit the department in 2021 (if the pandemic allows). Bertozzi is a professor at Stanford University and is best known for founding the field of bioorthogonal chemistry and currently the editor-in-chief of the American Chemical Society’s Central Science.



 Head shot of Cathy Murphy

Professor Cathy Murphy Becomes First Woman Department Head

On June 1, Professor Cathy Murphy officially began her new role as head of the Department of Chemistry and became the first woman to lead the department in its 152-year history. A faculty member since 2009, Murphy is also an alum of the department. Since January, she has been attending department-head-related meetings and working with previous department head Martin Gruebele toward the leadership transition. Read more about Murphy's goals for Chemistry at Illinois and her thoughts on becoming the first woman department head. And listen to Murphy talk about becoming a chemist and growing up with her twin sister, Patty Jones, associate director for research at the Beckman Institute: Twin Sister Scientists: Advice for Girls & Women in Engineering & Science.

 Head shot of St. Elmo Brady

Documentary About Alumnus St. Elmo Brady Wins a Silver Telly Award

A documentary about Illinois chemistry alumnus St. Elmo Brady has won a silver Telly Award for 2020 in the Non-broadcast General History category. The first African American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States, Brady was offered a scholarship to attend graduate school at Illinois and earned his Ph.D. in 1916. The documentary was produced through the support of the Chemistry department and the School of Chemical Sciences and created by an Illinois Video Services team led by Todd Wilson. Wilson, the director of special projects for Public Affairs, said he believes the documentary is serving its purpose, sharing the story of this amazing guy and reminding people how influential the university has been. Read more about the Telly Award and the award-winning documentary.


Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations: Statement on George Floyd Death

The Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, which is part of Student Affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, released this statement in response to recent events.

 Head shot of Robert Sellers

Guest Commentary: "I Am So Tired"

Robert Sellers is the Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and the Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan. He recently wrote a personal commentary about the state of race in today’s society in light of recent events across the United States. He wonders what his role should be moving forward, and after reflecting on his parents' example, offers hope for the future "in the knowledge that each generation of African Americans has changed America for the better" and in "a great faith that the next generation will take the next steps in changing America even more." Read more 


 Picture of Samuel Okyem in a suit and tie

Get to Know: Graduate Student Samuel Okyem

Samuel Okyem recently completed his Master's degree in chemistry at Illinois State University and has chosen the Department of Chemistry at Illinois to pursue his PhD, because of the inter-disciplinary and cutting-edge research conducted by the faculty. His research interests include analytical neurochemistry using advanced chemical tools to understand the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases and the effects of opioids on chronic migraines. Originally from Ghana, in Western Africa, Okyem is a first generation college student who has a passion for research, a desire to become a research scientist and a humanitarian goal that's partly motivated by personal loss. Read more

 Graphic representation of the COVID-19 virus

Chemistry Researchers Share COVID-19 Projects

Alumni, faculty, students, and others "attended" the Department of Chemistry's first virtual event featuring two of the many COVID-19 related projects and research that chemistry faculty members are currently leading. A recording is now available of the virtual event that featured Professor Yi Lu explaining his work to develop new point-of-care testing and Professor Marty Burke talking about the SHIELD Initiative work to deploy rapid, scalable COVID-19 testing on campus and the Health Maker Lab's efforts to supply Personal Protective Equipment to frontline healthcare workers. And you can read about all of the COVID-19 projects on the department website. Read more


Student Wellness Coalition Seeking Input on Topics for Future Lectures

By Alison Wallum

In late May, the Department of Chemistry’s Student Wellness Coalition (SWC) began their third annual Wellness Lecture Series by hosting a panel with Professors Jen Heemstra, Cecilia Leal, and Jeffrey Moore with a discussion centered around balancing well-being and academic research given the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Panel members addressed various topics, discussing how research and academic life have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began and sharing their own experiences about continuously adapting and adjusting to life while working from home. After discussing their perspectives on how they have tried to evaluate stressors, expectations, and necessary adjustments to work and life, panel members also shared their thoughts on the challenges of planning for a safe return to laboratory work. SWC would like to thank everyone who attended and contributed to this year’s first event and the panel members for taking the time to share their perspectives. If you would like to submit feedback on this event or share suggestions for topics you would like to hear about in the future, please fill out the following form: https://surveys.illinois.edu/sec/7325289. The next 2020 Wellness event will be June 18 at 3pm, a virtual workshop with Kathy Sweedler on financial wellness for graduate students (see events section of this June newsletter for more information and Zoom link). SWC had to cancel original programming planned for the 2020 Wellness Summer Lecture Series, but the group is restructuring wellness-related workshops and seminars for a virtual format to continue offering a wider range of discussions about wellness in academia this year. Stay tuned for information on more events!

The Student Wellness Coalition is a collective of graduate student representatives from different organizations focused on combining efforts to focus on wellness-related topics in our department.




Racializing COVID-19: A Series About the Intersection of Race and COVID-19

As the coronavirus has dominated the national and international discourse for several months, an upcoming University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign series explores racism, fear, xenophobia, and scapegoating during the pandemic and discusses how institutional structures and practices exacerbate existing inequities. The series brings together a multi-disciplinary group of experts to share their expertise on these issues 2 - 3 p.m. on Thursdays, June 11, 18, and 25. Read more

Understanding Contemporary Challenges in the Time of COVID-19

A new webinar series addresses multiple topics related to the fact that communities, including the University of Illinois, are learning what it means to exist in the time of COVID-19. The need to address modern societal challenges, including data privacy, mental health, and health vulnerabilities, is more important than ever now. The first webinar in this series will address the importance of data privacy and security—especially as it relates to personal health information. You are invited to submit questions and participate in a discussion with U of I experts 4-5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9. The panelists will draw on their expertise and leadership, informing policies and developing technology pertinent to COVID-19 exposure notification and tracing. Learn more

Financial Wellness for Graduate Students: Meeting Today's Challenges  

The second event in the 2020 Wellness Lecture Series is a virtual workshop that's geared toward graduate students in the department and features Kathy Sweedler, a consumer economics educator with the University of Illinois Extension. This Zoom event that's hosted by the Student Wellness Coalition will be at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. Here is the Zoom link; the meeting ID, 984 7140 0385; and password, 432713.




How Higher Ed Can Fight Racism: 'Speak Up When It's Hard'

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sirry Alang, an associate professor of sociology and health, medicine, and society at Lehigh University, offers ways academic institutions can meet the most pressing problems of the moment: the disproportionate toll that COVID-19 is taking on the black and Latina/o Americans, as well as harsh policing in black and brown communities and offers recommendations for college leaders on how to respond to racial bias on and off-campus. Read more

Three College Leaders on Hope, Despair and the Death of George Floyd

The Chronicle of Higher Education interviews three college leaders about challenges presented by recent events, including the death of George Floyd, the role of higher education in such times, and where hope might be found. Read more

Faculty Open Up About Mental Health Under the COVID-19 Pandemic

A C&EN article discusses how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is putting a strain on the mental health of professors, as well as students, on campuses across the country. Read more