American Chemical Society Honors UH Chemist for Work to Promote STEM

Local Chapter of National Chemistry Olympiad Sees Exponential Growth Under Yang’s Leadership

Ding-Shyue (Jerry) Yang’s unwavering commitment to providing STEM opportunities to students is evident not just as an educator, but also in community service.

Ding-Shyue (Jerry) Yang
Ding-Shyue (Jerry) Yang (right), associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, receives the 2023 American Chemical Society’s ChemLuminary Award from ACS fellow and UH alumnus Monte Pettitt (left) on behalf of the ACS Greater Houston Section. Under Yang’s direction, participation in the local chapter of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad has more than doubled. Photo courtesy: Sharon Fox

Yang, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Houston, also serves as coordinator for the Houston chapter of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, a multi-tiered chemistry competition for high school students.

Yang’s work has resulted in two awards.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) awarded its Greater Houston Section the prestigious ChemLuminary Award for 2023 partly because of Yang’s work with the Olympiad. The award honors those involved in ACS who promote chemistry, education and community engagement. It recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions at the local section level.

Yang was individually honored with the Salute to Excellence Award from the Greater Houston Section of the ACS. The award recognized him “for his leadership in our Chemistry Olympiad program where he shares his excitement for chemistry and inspires high school students to achieve excellence on their journey to becoming future scientists.”

Ding-Shyue (Jerry) Yang
Yang earned the 2023 Salute to Excellence Award from the Greater Houston Section of the ACS for his accomplishments with the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad. Photo courtesy: Sharon Fox

The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics faculty member is quick to point out that his success is part of a team effort. “I’ve collaborated with my colleague, Vladimir Zaitsev, each year during the preparation for this event,” said Yang. Zaitsev serves UH as an associate professor of instruction in the Department of Chemistry.

The Pandemic Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic brought on unprecedented challenges. As coordinator for the Houston-area chapter of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, Yang wanted to maintain a sense of normalcy for high school students who were participating in the Olympiad, just as most were staying home during the onset of COVID.

Yang reinvented how students could participate in the event.

“To accommodate students during this time, we pivoted the gathering to a virtual event before gradually transitioning to a hybrid gathering as COVID conditions improved,” said Yang. “We actually saw an increase in participation during this period.”

When Yang took over as coordinator of the local chapter’s event in 2017, approximately 150 high school students participated in the Olympiad. Since then, that number has grown to over 350 with participation from approximately 30 area high schools. Yang’s hybrid model remains in place today.

“Since implementing the hybrid gathering model, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from families who, otherwise, would have to travel from as far away as Victoria to attend an in-person event at UH,” said Yang. “That’s because the Olympiad’s Houston-area chapter covers a large swath of southeast Texas.”

Yang appreciates all the support he received from the Greater Houston Section of the ACS. “They (Greater Houston Section) provided funds for school-level and district-wide awards to help encourage participation,” he said.

The hybrid model gives students the option of attending an in-person event at UH or remotely at their high school campus. The hybrid exams are managed by high school teachers who are part of a network managed by Yang.

The first step of the competition is a local exam which takes place in March, followed by a three-part national exam. The top 20 students from the national exam advance to a national study camp before entering the International Chemistry Olympiad over the summer.

Yang views the yearly event as an opportunity to engage students in STEM learning.

“I see a lot of potential with the Olympiad drawing in students from all over greater Houston,” said Yang. “The fact that they are excited to engage in STEM activities is something that’s important to me.”

A Career with Honors

Yang’s passion for chemistry and STEM education has been evident throughout his career. In 2017, he was awarded a coveted five-year, $570,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award. He earned the Robert A. Welch Junior Professorship from the Welch Foundation and the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH in 2013. He also participated in the International Chemistry Olympiad in Italy, earning a gold medal in 1993.

Yang has served UH as a faculty member since 2012.

- Chris Guillory, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics