Celebrating 2011 – The International Year of Chemistry

CONWAY, Ark. (December 9, 2011) - The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) designated 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry (IYC).

To celebrate IYC, Hendrix College hosted a dinner to honor students from Rwanda who are majoring in chemistry and biochemistry at Arkansas colleges and universities. The event was underwritten by a grant from the American Chemical Society (ACS) to the Central Arkansas Section of the ACS, with supplemental funding from the Hendrix Office of International Programs.

In 2007, Hendrix led the creation of the Rwanda Presidential Scholars Program, a partnership with the Rwandan government to enroll highly talented Rwandan science and mathematics students at colleges and universities in the United States. The program is administered by Hendrix in partnership with the William J. Clinton Foundation. The Hendrix-led higher education consortium was the brainchild of David Knight, chairman of the Hendrix College Board of Trustees. Knight, the chief legal counsel at Stephens Inc., worked with President J. Timothy Cloyd to begin Hendrix's relationship, and both have been instrumental in recruiting new colleges to the consortium during the past four years. The program now includes 129 Rwandan students enrolled at 18 institutions across eight states.

"As coordinators of this program, we have many opportunities to interact with the students socially and cross-culturally. And of course we support them academically as well," said Dr. Peter Gess, Director of International Programs at Hendrix. "But this was a rare opportunity to celebrate the academic research successes of the Rwanda Presidential Scholars. These students will indeed play a large leadership role in the development of their country."

The event began with a showcase of chemistry and biochemistry research presented by 12 Rwanda Presidential Scholars from Hendrix, Harding University, Philander Smith College, and the University of Central Arkansas. In addition, nine other chemistry and biochemistry majors attended to observe their fellow Scholars' research and participate in animated discussions about new research. The chemistry or biochemistry majors invited their advisors and research directors, allowing fifteen faculty members and other researchers to be recognized as dedicated and inspiring mentors and fostering excellence in research. Faculty from Hendrix College, University of Central Arkansas, Philander Smith College, Harding University, and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) attended this event.

As students and faculty mingled before dinner, it was clear that both had a passion for continued development of ideas. Many students credited their mentors for fostering an attitude that Chemistry and biochemistry can and will play a pivotal role in the continuing development of Rwanda. During dinner, at four tables where students and faculty sat together, the conversation continued to revolve around application of undergraduate research to real-world problems.

"I believe that chemistry is one of the keys to developing nations," said Hendrix chemistry professor Dr. Randall Kopper. "Just think how important chemistry is for every aspect of development, from water purity to quality assurance in food processing."

Hendrix senior Renato Gatsinga plans to put his biochemistry degree to work in public health and medicine.

"I am excited about this event," he said. "We rarely get together and talk about research with students from other institutions. I am surprised at the exciting things my fellow students are doing."

Harding University senior Rene Rugango said that he was pleased not just about the event, but that he was able to attend with his advisor, Dr. Edmond Wilson. Apart from attending large national or regional conferences, it is unusual for students have the opportunity to exchange ideas with faculty in such an intimate and supportive environment.

Dinner was complemented with African tea and short speeches by Dr. Gess, Hendrix chemistry professor Dr. Tom Goodwin and Dr. Grover Miller of the UAMS Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

All discussed how encouraged they are by the dedication by both students and faculty to excellence in research and a clear understanding of the relevance of chemistry and biochemistry to the future of Rwanda and the individual careers of the Rwanda Presidential Scholars.

"It was a great opportunity to honor the efforts of Rwandan students and their fellowship program and partners in advancing science in a country that was devastated in 1994," said Dr. Miller. "We cannot undo the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, but we can help to prepare the country for a better tomorrow."

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. Hendrix was named the country's #1 "Up and Coming" liberal arts college for the third consecutive year by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2011 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country's best 376 colleges and is listed in the 2012 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges as one of 25 "Best Buy" private colleges included. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.