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   JULY 2020 ISSUE  

    I: Community Focus
        International Diversity: Prashant Jain's Path to Illinois
    II: Community News           
         Alumni profile: Sindhu Menon
         COVID-19: An International Student's Experience
         Taking the Illinois Community Pledge
         New International Student Group         
    III: Upcoming Events
          Anti-Racism Summer Learning Series
          Q&A Zoom sessions for maintaining F1 student status
    IV: Resources 
          C&EN: Black chemists speak out about inequity in STEM
          International Student and Scholar Services: COVID-19 updates and FAQS
          ACS Publications takes steps to confront racism
          Understanding the term BIPOC
          Being Black in America: UI Chancellor Robert Jones



July We Celebrate our International Chemistry Community

Last year, we decided to celebrate our chemistry international community by dedicating the July newsletter to international students, staff, and postdoc and faculty stories. We are keeping up with the tradition, acknowledging that this is a challenging time for our international students. The Department of Chemistry leadership is working diligently to ensure that international students can continue their studies this Fall semester. We hope you get to read some of the stories of our international community in this newsletter. 

 Head shot of Professor Prashant Jain

Prashant Jain's Path to Chemistry at Illinois

Originally from India, Professor Prashant Jain’s path to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began as a boy in the bustling, competitive city of Mumbai, where his natural curiosity and passion for reading eventually led him to discover his fascination with science, and eventually physics and chemistry.

Still following his natural curiosity in his research as a professor in the Department of Chemistry, Jain shares the journey that led him here, some of the challenges he faced adjusting to life far from his home as a graduate student in the United States and offers some encouragement to current international students.



 Head shot of Sindhu Menon

Alumni profile: Sindhu Menon leads development teams for BASF in Singapore

As the Head of Technical Development Asia Pacific for BASF in Singapore, alumna Sindhu Easwara Menon (Ph.D., Leckband, ’09) leads the technical service and application development teams for plastics applications. Originally from India, Menon also chairs her company’s "Women in Business" employee resource group that serves as a support system for women joining the company.

“The intent is also to support the company to attract and retain talented women so that the leadership pipeline is strengthened,” Menon said. “I believe diversity and inclusion is a very huge part of the higher education experience. It brings the best minds from all the parts of the world to the same place and becomes the incubation center for new ideas. US is a great place in this regard.”

 Head shot of Aastha Sharma

An international student's experience coping with challenges created by COVID-19

By Aastha Sharma

A few months ago, life was going well for a Ph.D. student I recently interviewed in the Department of Chemistry. After years of persistent research, this student, who prefers to remain anonymous, finally experienced that much-awaited victory moment.

Call it an obsession or a profound desire to understand chemical reactions; this student worked relentlessly: months of preparation, careful execution, and anticipation of publishable data that often ended in failure. During the worst of times, there were thoughts of quitting graduate school. But each time, this student would delve back into research, immersing in the beautiful world of scientific discovery. After all, this student had moved across the world, leaving family, friends, privilege, and a support system behind to pursue a Ph.D. at UIUC.

This past March, everything changed. The restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted this student’s research plans and graduation timeline. All major conferences the student was eagerly anticipating to present research and network with potential postdoctoral advisors were canceled.

And regardless of the level of effort, being locked down at home did not equate to a boost in productivity. Even with the ability to work remotely, stress affected mental and physical health. The guilt of not being with aging parents, living with travel bans, and navigating nonimmigrant visa issues all took a huge toll.

“At least I am still a research assistant, and I have a place to live in, a lot of foreign undergraduate students were stranded when universities shut down abruptly after spring break,” the student said. “Not every international student comes from a well-off family, and due to visa restrictions, they cannot work off-campus either; I honestly do not know how I would have coped. It is difficult for everyone in their own ways; I know I will get through this eventually because if there is one thing my Ph.D. has taught me, it is resilience.”

Being an international student myself, I can relate to these challenges. A majority of international students and scholars can relate to the struggles of this student’s story. While we enjoy celebrating their successes, understanding their unique struggles is also integral to our department’s success.

According to the University of Illinois Graduate College, international students comprise 27 percent (80 out of 295 students) of the total number of doctoral students in the Department of Chemistry, and 40 percent of enrolled doctoral students at UIUC are international. The university also has the largest international student population among U.S. public institutions, according to International Student & Scholar Services, and has the sixth-largest population of international scholars.

 Picture of a volunteer handling a COVID-19 testing sample

Taking the Illinois Community Pledge

In preparation for coming back together on campus this fall, as COVID-19 circumstances allow, faculty, staff, and students are being asked to commit to taking every possible step to protect those around us and show that we are doing our part by taking the Illinois Community Pledge. Signing the pledge, as Chancellor Robert J. Jones explained in a June 9 massmail, includes committing to conducting daily personal health checks, taking the COVID-19 online safety training, wearing a face covering, washing hands often, practicing social distancing, sanitizing surfaces and equipment and getting tested regularly, which can be done at many testing locations around campus, including the site (pictured) at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, 601 Lincoln Ave., Urbana, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Find other testing locations here.

 Head shot of Yiming Wang

New International Chemists Association wants to support graduate students

The International Chemists Association (ICA) is a newly established student organization that wants to serve students in the Department of Chemistry by improving the well-being of international graduate students as well as promoting inter-cultural conversation.

Yiming Wang, one of the organizers, said the goal is to create a community in which international students can safely discuss the unique challenges they face in their daily lives and connect them with resources to help address those challenges. Wang said the group also wants to provide a platform for international students to be vocal.

“We hope to help international students to communicate their own learning styles and various cultures, values, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes with the faculties and colleges, which will make our department a more vibrant and inspirational place to thrive and to grow,” she said.

The ICA was established less than a year ago. They held an informal luncheon during the new-student orientation to welcome new students, and Wang said the group is still determining the best ways to serve the community.

“During the global pandemic, the international students are facing unique challenges such as visa restrictions, travel bans, racism,” she said. “In the future, we hope that our group can act as a platform to bring awareness to the status quo of international students, as well as bringing in conversations on how to address those challenges from individual labs to the departmental level.” 

Anyone interested in being involved with this group or learning more about the ICA can contact Wang at yimingw2@illinois.edu.




Anti-Racism Summer Learning Series

Registration is open for the Anti-Racism Summer Learning Series, a four-part training program created by and for campus professionals. It is held 1-2 p.m. on Thursdays in July.

  • July 16: Being an Anti-Racist Ally
  • July 23: Structural Racism and Anti-Blackness hosted by Black Faculty and Professionals Alliance
  • July 30: How to Talk with a Racist Colleague

International Student and Scholar Services Q&A Zoom sessions

ISSS is holding Zoom Q&A sessions for students regarding the new guidance issued on July 6, 2020, addressing the requirements for maintaining status during Fall 2020.




C&EN: Black chemists speak out about inequity in STEM

Professors, graduate students, and others share stories of injustice and offer suggestions on how the community can provide support and solidarity in this June 19, 2020, article. Read more

International Student and Scholar Services: COVID-19 updates and FAQs

The university is monitoring developments surrounding COVID-19 globally. This page includes updates and FAQs for future and current international students and scholars and a link to Q&A sessions via Zoom for F-1 students on maintaining status in the fall. Read more

ACS Publications takes steps to confront racism

The American Chemical Society Publications Division is taking steps to confront racism in chemistry publishing and shared its initial actions in an article on June 22. Read more

Understanding the term BIPOC

Adrienne Dixson, a professor of critical race theory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, is part of the discussion in this article that talks about the words we use when we talk about the people who are disproportionately the victims of police brutality. It addresses the questions: When do we use the phrase “people of color”; when do we say “BIPOC,” which stands for Black and Indigenous people of color; and when do we just say “Black”? Read more

"Being Black in America: UI Chancellor Robert Jones"

The Chancellor shares first-person stories and solutions in wake of the death of George Floyd. Read more