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Chemical engineering grad students compete in summer series

The cancellation of the 2020 summer olympics didn’t stop one group of students from going for the gold. Instead of competing in traditional sporting events like swimming, beach volleyball or track, the Chemical Engineering Summer Olympics has students and faculty competing for titles in baking, scavenging and fitness.

Hosted by the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Organization (ChEGSO), the events were created as a way for students and faculty to remain (virtually) connected over the summer. According to Bethany Kersten, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and one of the organizers of the events, the ability to remain connected is especially important right now.

“Graduate school can feel isolating at times. Everyone has their own specific research project, which can consume most of your time. During non-COVID-19 times, it’s easy to take a break and catch up with friends and colleagues. With self-distancing, we can no longer do this. [These activities] keep people’s spirits up and create an opportunity for grad students to connect with their lab groups, friends and colleagues in a non-academic way,” Kersten said. 

The ChEGSO Summer Olympics, while fun, are not all games. In addition to weekly challenges, the group also hosts interest-based lectures on topics such as photography, yoga and backpacking, as well as volunteer challenges. 

“A few of the challenges were inspired by the department chair challenges hosted by Dan Lacks, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and C. Benson Branch Professor of Chemical Engineering, during the spring semester, which usually entailed some sort of fitness goal over a weekend. The participation was high, so we wanted to keep that momentum going,” Kersten said.

The group is also picking up their “pizza talks,” which typically take place over a free in-person pizza lunch, in a virtual format. The goal of these talks is to provide first-year graduate students with an opportunity to practice their first proposition presentations before an audience of their peers. 

To date, upwards of 15-20 students and faculty members have participated in each challenge, with different research groups competing against each other. Moving forward, the group hopes to gain some alumni participation as well.

“Maintaining personal connections is even more important now, and we hope that everyone has felt a bit less isolated with these challenges and talks.”

The Case Alumni Association supported the Chemical Engineering Summer Olympics with a $2,500 grant. The funds came from the Eltech Systems Lectureship in Electrochemistry, which supports bringing expert speakers to campus for lectures, seminars and group discussions.

“When the chemical engineering students approached us about using these funds to support their virtual program, we were glad we were able to help. It’s a great use of the fund,” shared Steve Zinram, executive director of the Case Alumni Association. 

The fund was created in the early 1980s by Eltech Systems Corp., a Chardon-based electronics manufacturer that was purchased in 2005 by Italian-based De Nora Tech. Today, De Nora has a large plant in Mentor making anodes and cathodes for various industries.