Younger Chemists Committee

Serving the Needs of Early Career Chemists

History of the YCC

The following is adapted from an article by YCC Past Chair Jodi L. Wesemann, written in honor of our 25th anniversary and originally appearing in the Spring 1999 YCC newsletter.

The History of the YCC

The American Chemical Society Younger Chemists Committee was first formed in 1974 with much of the groundwork for the formation laid in the late 1960s and early 1970s-a time of great unrest. The environment, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and women's rights were all controversial issues for society, and chemists were in the midst of many of them.

I think young chemists today have a hard time understanding the social and professional turmoil that greeted new chemists during this time. There was a clear schism erupting between the young and old chemists. Earth Day 1970 signaled the beginning of the environmental movement, and ACS members suddenly found themselves on one side or the other of highly contentious issues: The war in Vietnam handed chemists a grab bag of divisive issues, from the limits of patriotism to the widespread use of defoliants; The concept of social and economic rights for women was emerging; Scandal erupted in Richard Nixon's White House; And the job market was getting hit on all sides. -Wesley D. Bonds, Jr., Younger Chemists Task Force member 1970-1973, YCC member 1974-1978.

During that time, ACS Past President Gordon Nelson (1987), then a graduate student, voiced the concerns he and fellow students had about ACS national meetings. Fortunately, ACS officers recognized that they needed to forge a link with younger chemists. A group of younger chemists was assembled and asked for their recommendations, which included the formation of YCC.

I was there at the beginning-the open meeting of the Committee on Meetings and Divisional Activities at the ACS national meeting in New York. A recent University of Nevada-Reno graduate, I went to protest the decision to move a future national meeting from Las Vegas, supposedly because ACS should not be associated with sin.

After making that case, I also said that my fellow graduate students and I had not found national meetings particularly student-friendly. The comment struck a responsive chord with the committee chair, Bob Lemaitre, and the staff liaison, Bob Silber.

The Younger Chemists Venture Group, consisting of younger chemists, was brought together in Washington to discuss how ACS could better serve younger members. Our report to the Board Committee on Education and Students recommended a YCC-like committee. The result was the appointment of the Younger Chemists Task Force (chaired by Bob Fox) to "study how ACS can utilize more effectively the energy and enthusiasm of younger chemists." The Younger Chemists Task Force existed in a time of severe unemployment for chemists, with hundreds of Ph.D. chemists in post-doctoral holding patterns. We pressed for more employment-related services. Several of us were involved in the founding of the Division of Professional Relations. We also pressed for more user-friendly national meetings. And we kept raising the issue of a permanent programmatic committee, namely, YCC. Finally, YCC was formed in 1974. -Gordon L. Nelson, Younger Chemists Task Force member, 1970-1973.

The Establishment of YCC

In its initial years, YCC had a daunting task. It needed to create an agenda and show that it was an essential part of ACS-a difficult task for those not familiar with ACS structure or policy.

[At the beginning] the task to be done was unclear. What was expected of us meant different things to different folks. National scientific meetings were being disrupted by radical students. Some members wanted us there as buffers, and on a few occasions we were just that. There were impromptu roundtable discussions with student groups that covered the waterfront of issues. Every now and then something useful would crystallize out of the process. -Wesley D. Bonds, Jr., Younger Chemists Task Force member 1970-1973, YCC member 1974-1978.

Although YCC took its task seriously and worked hard on new projects and programs, it did not function like other ACS committees. First, its members did not spend much effort communicating its activities and accomplishments to the rest of ACS governance. Then, when Councilors attended meetings to see what YCC was doing, the more conservative members were appalled that the discussions were not governed by Robert's Rules of Order, but were lively, extended, and seemingly out of control. This did not put YCC in a strong position in the early 1980s when ACS faced severe budget cuts and had to reevaluate all ACS functions.

YCC was vulnerable since it had a sizable budget yet was the only ACS committee composed of young, non-Councilors without an ACS governance network and power base. In addition, while YCC was very energetic, focused, and goal-oriented, like many young professionals, it did not invest much effort reporting its accomplishments. To complicate matters, YCC never felt that strict adherence to Robert's Rules of Order helped spark and maintain creativity, and visits to YCC's long and lively, and sometimes loud, executive sessions by several conservative Councilors gave these Councilors the perception that YCC was somewhat out of control. The result in 1981 was the committee being surprised by proposals to ACS governance to cut the YCC budget and restructure the membership criteria-either of which would have prevented YCC from achieving its mission. It was not a pleasant time, but the ACS Board of Directors supported YCC and YCC learned that the Board was not just paying lip service to the needs of the younger chemists, but genuinely wanted YCC to succeed, and that the tough scrutiny was Councilors just doing their job. As supportive as the Board was, it was really ACS staff support that helped save the day. Halley Merrell was available with timely, succinct guidance, and YCC staff liaison Pamela Ayre provided me with a continuing crash course in ACS political realities. Without Pam's steady vigilance on YCC's behalf, there is no doubt in my mind that YCC would have lasted past 1982. Thus, the YCC Eminent Chemists reception held in the summer of 1983 was not just an all-star gala bringing together Nobel laureates and ACS dignitaries to talk with younger chemists, it was a celebration that YCC had faced its date with accountability and survived as an accepted and respected Joint Board Council Committee of the ACS. -Mark D. Frishberg, YCC member 1978-1983.

YCC is now well established as one of 46 ACS committees and one of 14 committees overseen by both the ACS Board of Directors and the ACS Council. New members are recruited by YCC members or others in ACS governance on the basis of their activities at local levels and their interest in programming for other younger chemists. The Committee on Committees recommends potential members to the ACS president and the chair of the Board of Directors, who make the actual appointments.

We would always spend a significant amount of time researching new members. Since the president was not familiar with many individuals who met YCC age requirements, our choices were almost always posted. As a result, we took the new member process as a religion. Our desire was to be the most politically correct committee in the Society with respect to gender, profession, and geographical location. -Alan C. Wilson, YCC member 1982-1990.

There were 15 people on YCC when I served, selected based on geography, degree, and commitment. Generally, people were known by a current member, but I was not. The councilors in the Kansas City section had nominated me because they felt I was a perfect candidate. Having held several positions in the local section, I brought an experience that most younger chemists only had through their schools and student organizations. I had accomplished a lot with my B.S. degree in chemistry. I felt so honored [to be appointed] that I attended my first national meeting as a YCC member the week before my wedding. Everyone said I was crazy, but I never missed a meeting in the three-year term. -Margie Wickham St. Germain, YCC member 1988-1992.

Initially, the committee had only 8-10 members; as it became established, the number grew. One of the first undergraduates appointed, Anne Wilson (YCC member 1978-1983), who later served as a councilor, a member of the Local Section Activities Committee, and chair of a task force on B.S. chemists, reminisced about YCC's progress toward becoming an integral part of ACS. "The committee learned the necessity of being visible to the other members of Council. This was when the chairs started preparing formal reports. The committee began to have a more formal nature-a change from the rather woolly group they were when I joined!"

YCC's increased visibility and activities impressed ACS governance. Through the turn of the century, the committee size has expanded. Since ACS bylaws only allowed 15 full members, associate members were appointed. In 2007 the number committee members reached an all time high, with 33 members and associates serving. Carolyn Ribes (YCC member 1994-1998), past YCC chair and 1992 chair of the Baton Rouge local section, remarked that "increasing the number of YCC members also allowed us to increase the number and magnitude of activities. It is also evidence of the strong support that YCC receives from the current Society governance."

As membership grew, YCC needed to reorganize. When the numbers were small, everyone felt that they could participate in all the activities. Former member Charles Grissom (1986-1994), now a professor at the University of Utah, stated, "When I was first appointed to the committee, we did not have subcommittees. Everyone participated in discussing every item in an Executive Session that ran for a total of about 16 hours spread over two and a half days." In the late 1980s four YCC subcommittees were formed: National Meeting Activities, Local and Regional Activities, Communications, and Newsletter. In 1996, after the creation of the YCC Web page and the realization the YCC needed to further improve its communication with the rest of ACS, the Newsletter Subcommittee was incorporated into the Communications Subcommittee, and the Subcommittee on Society Interface and Outreach was created.

The subcommittees of YCC are really where much of the work gets done. Over the years, I have really seen the effectiveness of these committees grow. YCC is one of the few committees I've worked on where everyone is a contributing member. The result is that the sum is really better than the parts. -Ellen R. Fisher, YCC member 1993-2000.

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