Sommer Farmer, a USC Aiken senior chemistry major, is working on a research project with Professor Dr. Monty Fetterolf – titled “Raman Spectra of EDAB and its Analogs in various solvents.”

When Farmer starts applying to medical schools, her resume will include such academic work and also the equivalent of a huge “star” – an indication that the chemistry department has earned certification from the American Chemical Society.

The Society offers the highest recognition that any university chemistry program can achieve. That recognition can open more doors to other universities and companies.

“This is the most rigorous degree you can get as an undergraduate,” said Dr. Chad Leverette, the department chairman. “The level of our program is equal to that of any institution.”

Professor Dr. Monty Fetterolf joined the chemistry department in 1990 – the first year that students graduated from the program. Even at that time, a long-term interest in Society certification became a “guiding light” in the department's subsequent initiatives, Fetterolf said.

Today, only 700 universities of all sizes in the nation have earned the certification. USCA is the ninth in South Carolina and is the smallest of those institutions.

“This doesn't mean those colleges without the ACS certificate are not good,” Fetterolf said. “But ACS will provide our students additional opportunities in industry, graduate programs and professional programs.”

The Society is the national organization for chemists, Leverette said. Its members and staff advocate for employment, professional training and evaluation.

Society certification requires an extensive evaluation of a university's entire chemistry program. Leverette, Fetterolf and other professors have worked diligently on the process for many years. Six years ago, they submitted an application for a national review process.

That included a self-study – answering specific questions regarding every aspect of the program. The department had to show the support of the university administration and indicate or submit library resources, availability of quality equipment, the annual budget and every test and syllabus.

Professors from certified universities spent two days at USC for an onsite review. USCA professors had to discuss every chemistry course. Then, the Society determined the chemistry department needed to separate one course – creating a foundational class and an in-depth course. That required the department to reapply. Fortunately, most of the work had been done, but the change still took another year for the university to attain Society approval.

In recent years, USCA has graduated 10 to 12 students from the chemistry program.

“Chemistry is not a huge major on any campus,” Fetterolf said. “If we're graduating 10 to 12 in a program that is nationally certified, that's a big number.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.