Execs brush up on intro chemistry

Business professionals in chemical industries who take Duke's Chemistry for Executives program may no longer be laughed out of the room when they speak in scientific terms.

For over 25 years, the course has strived to teach basic chemistry to corporate leaders.

"Eventually, these people have to go to research meetings... to make financial decisions and [they] need to know what these researchers are saying," said chemistry professor James Bonk, who has served as a consultant and lecturer for the program since its inception. "This course gives them the background of technical terms and understanding of chemistry for their field."

This year's Chemistry for Executives seminar will be held June 8 through 14, and will cost $7,200 per enrollment.

Chemistry for Executives was begun to improve relationships between industry and the University, as well as to gain support for graduate students in chemistry. During the program--offered to 30 people each year--executives participate in daily lectures in general, organic and physical chemistry. The classes are supplemented with nightly one-on-one tutorials with graduate students, which program director Richard Palmer calls "part of the genius of the design of the course." These tutorials allow participants to follow up on the day's material and ask questions.

Originally, the program lasted three weeks, but was reduced to two weeks in its second year. Since that time, it has undergone nearly annual modifications.

"The changes in the program are reflective of the changes in the chemical industry and of the people coming to the program," said chemistry professor Alvin Crumbliss, who, like Bonk, helped design the original course and has been a lecturer since its creation. "The program is more intense and more cost-effective, because for [the executives], time is money."

Now, program directors say they will condense the curriculum into six-and-a-half days.

"We have found that the weekends are very important to these executives," said Palmer, a Duke chemistry professor. "By cutting the program, they can return home to their families before the work week starts."

Another change has been the program's location. Originally, the University housed the executives in dormitories, but since 1992, participants have stayed at the Washington Duke Inn, attending classes in the Gross Chemistry Building.

In total, Chemistry for Executives has educated over 750 executives from industries throughout the world. Bonk said the program has seen its peak in participants, adding that the number fluctuates with economic trends.

"We have seen a majority of people from the petroleum industry, but we have a broad range outside of that ranging from Congressional lobbyists to lawyers," he said.

One petroleum company heavily involved with the program is BP, which has sent about 80 people to the course, and has also provided the program with a lecturer for the past 20 years. Palmer said the program has seen more participants from Europe and Asia than it has from Research Triangle Park, and added that this year, it enrolled a participant from Nigeria.


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