The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the SENCER Center for Innovation Southwest (SCI-SW) hosted the fifth annual SENCER Regional Symposium at Texas Woman’s University on January 31, 2020. This year’s focus (Citizen Science: The Impact on our Communities by Plastics in our Environment) was unique since it was our first symposium directed to a complex, capacious issue rather than science education per se as in previous SCI-SW symposia. The day started with a poster session in the morning. Of the 100 total registered, 63 were from TWU and 39 were from other institutions. Interestingly, we had 34 TWU students who had registered for the symposium.
Throughout the day, our speakers presented information, innovation and ideas about the use of plastics in our daily lives, the impact that plastics and their degradation products have on our environment and our health, and what we can and cannot do about this critical, civic issue. Further, with the help of Dr. Cathy Middlecamp and her students, we put together the TWU Zero Impact Team of TWU undergraduate students to help plan this event as a Zero Waste event.
Our first plenary speaker, Dr. Cathy Middlecamp from the University of Wisconsin talked about the idea of planning an event, such as this symposium, in such a fashion as to minimize the environmental impact: Planning a Zero Waste Event: The Inside Story. Helping her with her story were undergraduate students Riley Collins and Catie McDonald of the University of Wisconsin and the TWU Zero Impact Team: Liliana Driver, Raven Gallenstein, Yesinia Olguin, Jessica Hernandez and Emily Howard, all TWU undergraduate chemistry and biochemistry majors. The TWU faculty advisor for the team is Ms. Alana Taylor. Last fall, Riley and Catie visited TWU to help our newly formed TWU Zero Impact Team organize this symposium as a Zero Waste event. Each student had a chance to talk about the project, what they learned and their experience.
Throughout the fall and early spring semesters, the TWU team met with Drs. Kohan and Sheardy and Ms. Taylor to discuss their research and findings. The team first surveyed local hotels and restaurants that cater to learn about their sustainable practices. Based on their analyses, the team recommended a local hotel to house our guest speakers and a local restaurant to cater our lunch, both of which were chosen because the students judged them to have adapted the most sustainable practices. The team also recommended the use of ceramic plates and coffee cups, metal silverware and cloth napkins since, in the long run, using these items is more sustainable than using either plastic or paper products. The team also recommended the use of reusable name tags. Finally, the food left over from the lunch was designated for composting. All of these items will be used for future conferences and events hosted by SCI-SW and the TWU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Further, we will make these items available to other groups wanting to organize a zero waste event and offer our help in their planning.
Drs. Reid Bishop and Brandon Magers from Belhaven University talked about stewardship of the lower Mississippi river delta (Plastics in the Lower Mississippi River Delta) by presenting some of the educational projects they have been working on with students. Mr. David Hunter from the City of Denton spoke about Denton’s concerns related to water quality (A View from the Blue: Plastics and Related Items in Freshwater Systems, The City of Denton, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and Beyond). The issues of using plastics in the teaching and research laboratories was the topic of the presentation by Dr. Davida Smyth from The New
School (The Sustainability Challenges Facing Research and Teaching Laboratories When Going Green). Dr. Garon Smith from the University of Montana described a project with a local cardboard box recycling company (Plastics Waste: An Opportunity in Recycling Cardboard Containers?). Can scientists effectively use film to help educate the public? Dr. Sherine Obare from UNC-Greensboro gave a very compelling talk about the power of film in that regard (Transformative Power of Film in Environmental Science). Dr. Matt Fisher from St. Vincent College explained how the American Chemical Society (ACS) develops policy related to public issues and the chemistry community (Science and Citizenship: How the Chemistry Community Connects to Policy Decisions). Dr. Richard Sheardy from TWU described the new departmental wide undergraduate research project focusing on plastics and their degradation products in north Texas. To finish the day, Dr. Stephen Carroll from Santa Clara University put everything together in his plenary (How Civic Engagement Produces Transformative, Durable Learning)!
The organizers (Dr. Nasrin Kohan, Ms. Cynthia Maguire and Dr. Richard D Sheardy) gratefully acknowledge the following for their generous financial support of this symposium: The TWU Office of the Provost, the TWU Office of Student Life, the TWU Center for Faculty Excellence, the TWU Buildwell Committee, the University of Wisconsin Sustainability Office, and the TWU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Without this support, we would not have been able to host this event. We also appreciate the welcome remarks from Interim Provost Dr. Carolyn Kapinus and Vice President for Student Life, Dr. Monica Mendez-Grant. We also thank the Denton Record Chronicle (https://dentonrc.com/news/environmental_issues/twu-team-works-to-cut-event-s-impact-on-environment/article_f0d34d17-4c11-5437-9476-ab8e0c976d9e.html) and the TWU Lasso (https://www.twulasso.com/regional-symposium-aims-to-inform-about-the-impact-of-plastics/ ) for their articles about this event! Last but not least, we greatly appreciate the help of Ms. Courtney Hawkins and Ms. Mehgann Mallory from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry for all the behind the scenes work they did.
We had the SCI-SW Board of Directors Meeting on Thursday, January 30. In attendance were Co-Directors Cynthia Maguire and Nasrin Kohan, TWU liaison Richard Sheardy and board members, Matt Fisher, Cathy Middlecamp, Reid Bishop, Brandon Magers, Stephen Carroll and Garon Smith, Rob Petros, and Karen Dunlap. The board focused on evaluation of the symposium, and continuation and funding of future annual symposia. We also discussed the Mississippi River Project (Tara project). We have set aside May 18-22, 2020 for the first attempt at the Tara project course. This course will be focusing on plastics in the lower Mississippi River delta and will include classroom, fieldwork and laboratory experiences. This course will ultimately serve as a model for developing stewardship of important water resources anywhere