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From the lab to the workplace

The chemistry department has been hosting the popular luncheon for its students for 37 consecutive years.

When it comes to giving students an opportunity to meet with the top executives in their field of study and learn more about what awaits them after graduation, nobody does it better than Furman’s chemistry department.

For 37 consecutive years, the department has hosted a popular luncheon for students, faculty, alumni and high-level representatives from local companies. Its purpose is to provide a forum for networking and showcasing summer research, as well as enjoying good food and conversation among colleagues and friends of the department.

The luncheon, which draws approximately 150 attendees each year, also provides a chance for students to hear from alumni who have made successful careers in science.

For many of Furman’s undergraduate chemistry students, it will be the first time they have engaged with chemical industry professionals.

Last year’s keynote speaker was Frances Ligler ’72, the Lampe Distinguished Professor in the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. Ligler, who holds 31 patents, was recently inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in recognition of her groundbreaking work in optical biosensors.

The speaker for this year’s luncheon, which took place June 20, was Clemson University Chemistry Professor Daniel Whitehead ’02, who discussed his group’s research into the development of anti-parasitic compounds to combat African sleeping sickness.

“For many of our undergraduates, this is the first time they have engaged someone who works in the chemical industry, so this opportunity increases their awareness of the range of careers available,” said Paul Wagenknecht, professor of chemistry and chair of the department. “In fact, about half of the corporate representatives at this event are Furman graduates, having made important connections at this event in the past.”

While there is no shortage of humor at the event with its crowd-pleasing slide show and opening remarks by faculty, the luncheon has a serious intention. It is an opportunity for students to hear first-hand what companies are doing in their fields and in product development.

And for many undergraduates, it’s an introduction to the realities of the day-to-day life as a chemist. Sharing a table with executives from companies like Milliken, Ortec, Patheon, Michelin and others informs students about the wealth of career paths in chemistry and exposes them to the business side of the discipline.

Equally important is how the luncheon underscores the collegial faculty/student relationship at the university, which boasts one of the largest undergraduate research programs in the country. The gathering is especially indicative of how Furman faculty work alongside students to collaborate on research and help prepare them for careers or advanced degrees.

In the past five years, the department has sent more than 150 students to present at regional, national, and international research conferences. And since 2010, chemistry undergraduates have co-authored nearly 40 peer-reviewed manuscripts, including articles in prestigious journals such as “Analytical Chemistry”, “The Journal of Physical Chemistry”, “Biochemistry” and “Nature Communications.”

For more information, contact Tim Hanks in the Furman chemistry department at tim.hanks@furman.edu.

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