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Chemistry luncheon helps students network

JUNE 26, 2012
by Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

Chemists from Milliken to Michelin joined Furman faculty and students last week at the Younts Conference Center to share a meal, enjoy some laughs and discuss their work.

The 59 students and 17 faculty members participating in the chemistry department’s undergraduate summer research took a break June 21 during the sixth week of the program to share in the annual Chemistry Corporate Luncheon, now in its 26th year. Louie Steed of Ortec Inc. of Easley and a graduate of Furman’s Class of 1968, was the guest speaker.

The luncheon has continued to grow over the years, as representatives from an increasing number of companies attend annually.  Furman graduate Andy Ligon, president of SC Field Technical Services of Lakewood, Calif., was recognized with what Knight called an “imaginary award” for coming the farthest distance to attend. Preston Edwards, was recognized as the guest with the most experience. He graduated from Furman in 1943 and worked as a medical doctor until age 85.

Many of the 170 attendees were actively involved in the lunch program — students showcased their research and chemists discussed the projects they’re involved in on a day-to-day basis.

“This provides an opportunity for students to hear firsthand what companies are doing in their science work and their product development,” said Lon Knight, chemistry department chair. “It ties into educating students on what chemistry and science has done in the real world with the business dimension added to it.”

For many students, it’s their first exposure to the realities of everyday life as a chemist.

Andrew Kantor, a junior from Harrisburg, Pa., said his plan is to earn his doctorate with the goal of becoming a university chemistry professor. His participation in the summer research program has been “invaluable,” he said, as it has helped him learn the ins and outs of the research process.

Hearing from professionals about real world applications of chemistry gave Kantor food for thought. “You can take a chemistry degree and use it a million different ways,” he said.

Knight said he hopes connections made during the event will strengthen Furman’s ties with local industry and help Furman provide students with jobs in the future.

“South Carolina used to be a fly-over state” for companies with jobs in life sciences, said Steve Johnson, vice chairman of the South Carolina Biotechnology Industry Organization and president of CreatiVasc Medical in Greenville.

Now, with rapid growth in life sciences jobs in South Carolina, Johnson said, “Our goal is to keep our talent in the state. After students finish their education, we want to bring them back here to work in South Carolina companies.”

The South Carolina Biotechnology Industry Organization will host its annual conference in Greenville this November and is encouraging Furman students to attend, he said.

Furman is home to one of the largest undergraduate research programs in the nation. The Class of 2012 was the largest ever for the chemistry department – 40 graduated with the American Chemical Society accredited degree in chemistry. Five Furman chemistry graduates were selected as 2012 recipients of highly competitive Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

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