NACD: Facing the challenge

Author: Kate Larson


Next year’s goals for the Chemical Educational Foundation® (CEF) are bigger than ever: 32,000 students; 1,400 educators; and 9,000 new users of an award-winning science curriculum. And CEF hopes to meet and exceed them. The organization is drawing on 25 years of industry support and a decade of successful educational programs as it looks ahead to the upcoming year. Having just celebrated 10 years of the popular You Be The Chemist (YBTC) Challenge® competition with record-breaking attendance at the national level, CEF is planning to make 2015 its biggest – and best – year yet.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Challenge, two past National Challenge Champions joined CEF in Philadelphia, PA, for the 2014 National Challenge competition and dinner. Speaking with Maggie Leake (2004 champion) and Andrew Lingenfelter (2011 champion) was an opportunity for attendees to see first-hand the competition’s positive impact. Listening to them discuss their educational goals, spectators could not help but imagine where the 12- and 13-year-old students competing that day might find themselves in five to 10 years.

Maggie Leake

Maggie Leake as 2004 champion (left) and now

Leake, a chemistry and math double-major at the Mississippi University for Women, cited the Challenge as her motivation for pushing through self-doubt as she encountered increasingly difficult classes at the university level. “Because of the competition, I keep coming back to chemistry. Because of the competition, I already know I have what it takes.”

Leake spent the summer researching Alzheimer’s disease prevention using computerized chromatography, and will finish the second of her two degrees this coming year. She hopes to embark on a career in which her scientific and mathematical skills – and love of learning – are put to good use.

Lingenfelter, a rising high school senior, described how his success in the Challenge led a local science teacher to mentor him, guiding his research projects until he was accepted at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair. Lingenfelter says the Challenge inspired a love of physics, as well as a sense of curiosity that led him to pursue science projects on his own, including rocketry. Of the rockets he is currently building with a classmate, he notes: “We have incorporated chemistry for the fuel, physics for the flight characteristics, and engineering for the design.” He is applying to universities with strong programs in the sciences.

There are a lot of young Maggies and Andrews currently working their way through middle school. Together with NACD members, CEF is trying to show all of them that science is not only a great way to explore the world around them, but it can lead to careers that are fun and exciting. Throughout 2015, CEF will be working to spotlight careers in the sciences, and the CEF staff are already compiling profiles of “cool” careers – jobs that require knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math and would appeal to elementary and middle-school students as they begin to think about their futures.


Students and industry met in Philadelphia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Challenge

NACD members can play a critical role in helping CEF put a friendly face on the field of chemistry. Many pre-high school students have never met a chemist or considered a career in the sciences, and studies show that the best way to interest students in scientific careers is to start young. If you can help us profile a day in the life of a local chemist, please reach out to CEF staff at, or call 703/527-6223.

“Anything that we can do to stimulate excitement around chemistry in youth at this age is very productive for the industry as a whole,” says Richard White, global business director at FMC Corporation, “because these are, in fact, our future scientists, engineers, and leaders.”

“CEF’s programs bring high-quality, hands-on science education to youth nationwide, helping to mold a generation of informed citizens and scientists,” notes William A. Fidler, member of the management board, Brenntag AG. “The You Be The Chemist programs are an integral part of our outreach efforts at Brenntag North America, because we recognize that today’s students are tomorrow’s innovators and industry leaders.”

One thing is certain – as CEF looks to the future, the opportunities for growth are endless. As the You Be The Chemist programs move into new states, schools and classrooms, more students will be able to echo the 2014 National Challenge competitor who wrote: “When I look out the window, I can see how chemistry is involved in everything.”