Allison Campbell ’85 named president of the American Chemical Society

Your alarm sounds. It’s 5:15 a.m. You pour yourself a cup of coffee to prepare for the busy day ahead. You bike to work, and it takes an hour. Before lunch, you have a scheduled laboratory walk-through and a weekly staff meeting to run. Your afternoon consists of compiling your latest notes and research to prepare for an upcoming presentation. It’s hours before you will grab your bike to start the ride home.

President of the American Chemical Society Allison Campbell '85This is the average weekday for Allison Campbell ’85, acting associate laboratory director for the Earth and Biological Sciences Directorate at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

With an annual budget of over $100 million, a staff comprised of over 500 employees, and two user facilities that reach thousands of scientists worldwide, there are few quiet days at the office.

As if this wasn’t impressive enough, Campbell will soon be adding another title to her already remarkable resume: president of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Founded in 1876, the ACS is the world’s largest scientific society. Its mission is to advocate for the continued development and advancement of chemistry in today’s world. Located locally, nationally, and globally, the ACS works to educate the general public about the importance of chemistry in our daily lives.

This year, Campbell was voted to lead the prestigious society. She will serve a total of three years: a one-year term as president-elect in 2016, president in 2017, and immediate past-president in 2018.

“I’m really proud of the opportunity to lead the American Chemical Society,” said Campbell. “I’ve been a member ever since I was a student at Gettysburg. When I was a young student it was a great way to network with professionals in the scientific world. I was able to attend regional meetings where I got the chance to practice giving presentations and improve my skills around talking about my research.”

Leading the world’s largest scientific community is no easy feat, but Campbell already knows what she wishes to accomplish while in office.

“We need to advocate for science and chemistry more on Capitol Hill,” she said. “A lot of discoveries come out of science that drive our nation’s economy. If we’re going to succeed as a nation, then the general public needs to understand and appreciate the role of science in their everyday lives.”

This appreciation, Campbell hopes, will convince people that funding for the sciences, chemistry in particular, should be an important piece of our political agenda.

Campbell has even gone before Congress to talk about the importance of science in our world. A few years back, she was asked to testify before the House Subcommittee on Space, Science and Technology. She discussed the various programs within the Department of Energy Science portfolio and the benefits they have to the science industry.

“I’ll admit I was incredibly nervous about it, but it was a thrilling experience because you’re part of the political process, part of the democratic process, and what you say is now a matter of record, probably somewhere in the archives.”

Before her time testifying on Capitol Hill and working for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Campbell spent her days like many Gettysburg students do—studying in the library, going to class, and hanging out with friends. She was a member of The Sceptical Chymist Club, a chemistry club on campus that still exists today, and played on the Gettysburg College softball team during her senior year.

But many of Campbell’s fondest memories are of her chemistry classes and her experiences working alongside Gettysburg students and faculty.

“All of the chemistry professors were fantastic and helped me get to where I am,” remarked Campbell. “I will say that it wasn’t until Prof. Donald Fortnum’s class, and physical chemistry, that it really clicked for me. For some reason that’s when my brain turned on, and I was able to grasp the concepts more clearly.”

Campbell attributes many of her successes in the scientific community to her liberal arts background and the education she received at Gettysburg College.

“When I went to graduate school I was the only person in my graduate class that had a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry. Everyone else had a Bachelor of Science. And I was better prepared than many of them in a lot of ways,” she said. “They may have taken more science classes, but my liberal arts education—because of its emphasis on reading, writing, and presentation— prepared me to communicate my ideas more effectively.”

And Campbell isn’t the first Gettysburg graduate to bring a liberal arts background to the scientific community…

Rewind to 1895, when Edgar Fahs Smith, Gettysburg College Class of 1874, began his first of three terms as president of the American Chemical Society. A native of York, PA, Smith entered Gettysburg College—then Pennsylvania College—in 1872, and graduated with degrees in Chemistry and Mineralogy two years later. Smith is a noted pioneer historian of chemistry, and was a co-founder of the ACS’s Division of History of Chemistry.

Campbell’s advice to current students?

“I would tell them to do what makes them passionate so that they get up every day and want to rush to work. I would tell them that a career in science opened the world up to me in ways I never imagined. And I would also tell them to look at the people around them, at their network of friends, and to establish lasting connections throughout their career.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Article by Erin Meachem ’16, Communications and Marketing Intern

Contact: Carina Sitkus, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Wed, 16 Dec 2015

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