Seal of Approval: UH in Exclusive Company With High ‘ACS’ Marks

Chemistry department ranked among elite programs, leads to competitive advantage for graduates

When it comes to undergraduate chemistry degrees, certification by the American Chemical Society (ACS) is like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and the University of Houston’s success in churning out ACS-certified graduates has put its chemistry department in exclusive company.

The most recent available data show UH 30th among 632 universities in the number of certified chemistry degrees awarded during 2005-2006, just slightly behind prestigious schools like Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois. Numbers for 2006-2007 have not yet been published, with data for 2007-2008 being collected now and expected to reflect a big jump in the rankings for UH.

“Nearly 40 students graduated with ACS-certification this year, so UH’s ranking likely will rise even further,” said Simon Bott, the chemistry department’s director of undergraduate affairs and advising.

Chemistry students can pursue two types of undergraduate degrees at UH – the Bachelor of Science that follows the strict ACS-approved curriculum – or the less rigorous Bachelor of Arts. Like most schools, UH encourages its chemistry students to pursue the ACS-certified degree, Bott said. The certification makes students more competitive for graduate school and industry jobs.

A membership organization that includes students, researchers and professionals in the field of chemistry, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society. ACS requirements include at least 500 lab hours, which is about twice what a B.A. chemistry degree would require, and also requires more coursework in biochemistry, inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry. About three-fourths of chemistry undergrads at UH are pursuing the ACS-approved degree. “Having that credential is important when students start looking for jobs in the chemical industry or admission to graduate school or professional school,” said David Hoffman, chair of the chemistry department. “When you go out into the real world, ACS certification means something. It is a signal to potential employers and graduate schools that a student has completed an especially rigorous chemistry curriculum.”

The fact the department shepherds so many of its students through the rigorous ACS curriculum can be attributed in part to a faculty that looks out for its students. UH professors set high expectations for their students and work toward providing them with jobs as teaching assistants or tutors and research opportunities with top faculty.

One recent graduate in chemistry, Saba Javed, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry, said the rigorous curriculum encouraged by the department and the opportunities for undergraduate research helped her compete for admission into top graduate programs, such as the California Institute of Technology and Cornell University. She will continue her studies as a graduate student at Caltech beginning this fall.

“ACS certification opens doors to both graduate school and industry jobs, and the extra chemistry coursework is helpful even for premedical students,” Javed said. “During my last semester, I averaged 40 hours a week in the lab and even spent a good portion of my spring break in it. There are numerous opportunities to get involved in research, and because the student-faculty ratio is small, there are many opportunities to interact with professors and to do research with them.”

During her last semester at UH as an undergraduate, Javed was the president of the UH chapter of ACS. She worked under Hoffman doing a project in synthetic inorganic chemistry that has potential applications in catalysis.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A photo of recent chemistry graduate Saba Javed working in the lab is available on the Web at A high-resolution photo is available by contacting Lisa Merkl.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with nearly 400 faculty members and approximately 4,000 students, offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, geosciences, mathematics and physics have internationally recognized collaborative research programs in association with UH interdisciplinary research centers, Texas Medical Center institutions and national laboratories.

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