Chemistry, as a separate discipline, has existed at Omaha University/University of Nebraska at Omaha since the early days of the institution. Dr. Nell Ward, who held a doctorate in Chemistry, joined the Omaha University faculty in 1918. Dr. Ward remained on the faculty until her retirement in 1955. Dr. Ward served as chair of the Chemistry Department for many of the later years. Old photos and newspaper clippings show chemistry graduates, for certain, by 1927 and that chemistry students were being recognized for outstanding achievement in undergraduate research as early as the late 1950s.
A University report prepared in 1966 for the Omaha Chamber of Commerce reported that although the majority of students taking chemistry were not chemistry majors, graduates of the Chemistry Department had amassed a very good record of professional accomplishments which served as evidence for the quality of the undergraduate program in chemistry. The report stated that 49 students had earned chemistry degrees in the previous 15 years. Of this number, 28 had gone on to earn advanced degrees in chemistry or related fields.
The Chemistry Department had been following the Amercian Chemical Society (ACS) curriculum guidelines for undergraduate chemistry departments for some time and it was decided that one way to strengthen the program was to seek ACS accreditation of our undergraduate degree. Accreditation was achieved in 1970. At that time, only one other chemistry department in the state was accredited.
At this same time, the Chemistry Department's emphasis on undergraduate research increased. As part of this initiative, the department pushed to make modern instrumentation available to our undergraduate students. The Chemistry Department was the first non-graduate department in the state to use electronic balances, the first to have a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer for undergraduate use, and the first to routinely use computers in the laboratory program. Keeping up with new technology and making it available to our students has continued to be a high priority with the department.
In 1979, the Chemistry Department published ints first Role and Mission Statement:
The Chemistry Department, University of Nebraska at Omaha, has a long tradition of high quality undergraduate education. This quality is reflected in our status as an ACS-approved Department and by the very high percentage of our graduates completing advanced degrees. It will be the primary objective of the department to continue this tradition of excellence in undergraduate chemical education.
A very important part of any good undergraduate program is an active involvement in research by both students and faculty. Our research activities are intended to keep the faculty current and to provide a more complete undergraduate program.
The role and mission of the Chemistry Department has changed very little since 1979.
The most current role and mission statement of the Chemistry Department was published in 1988-89 as a Statement of Objectives for the Department:
The Department's primary continuing objective is to provide a quality undergraduate program for students majoring in Chemistry. The program must prepare them to perform soundly in entry level positions with chemical or chemically-based industries, in professional school programs or in graduate schools.
The Department is guided toward this goal by the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Professional Training. This committee establishes guidelines for undergraduate chemistry programs and evaluates baccalaureate programs in chemistry in the United States. Those programs which meet these criteria are approved by the ACS . Only about one-half of the nearly 1,100 chemistry departments in the United States are approved. UNO is one of the approved departments. The approval assures our graduates that their chemical training is current and in line with the national trends in undergraduate chemistry education.
The ACS guidelines deal with program resources such as faculty, instrumentation, and library, in addition ot curriculum standards. Thus within our primary objective it is the intention of the Department to:
1) Encourage faculty development;
2) Be aggressive in providing up-to-date instrumentation which can be used in both regular laboratory instruction and research;
3) Actively encourage library acquisition of primary source materials and reference tools.
A second, related Department objective is to provide a significant research experience for all interested majors. The Department does not require research for the baccalaureate, but does strongly encourage it. A highly visible research program does entice many students to take at least one course in research.
The Department's third objective is to provide appropriate service courses to the wide variety of non-major students who seek or require some background in Chemistry.
The Chemistry Department awards only B.A. and B.S. degrees. The B.S. degree is certified by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and is designed for chemistry majors intending to become industrial chemists or to pursue graduate studies in chemistry or biochemistry. The B.A. degree is intended for secondary school teachers or students in pre-professional programs.
The Chemistry Department takes considerable pride in providing many opportunities for our students to grow both socially and professionally.
The Chemistry Department sponsors a Chemistry Club who organizes the Chemistry Awards banquet which is held each Spring; many members of the club also serve as Chemistry tutors in the Math/Science Learning Center. The Chemistry Club has been recognized for outstanding performance three times in recent years. Various members of the faculty also serve as sponsors for the Pre-medical and Pre-Pharmacy student groups. Chemistry faculty members serve as academic advisors for chemistry majors, pre-medical students, pre-physician students, and pre-pharmacy students.
Probably the greatest service the Department provides for our majors is the opportunity to participate in a very active undergraduate research program. Research at undergraduate institutes is becoming increasingly more important in national education goals. A recent quote from the Council on Undergraduate Research sums up this attitude:
The Council on Undergraduate Research believes that a discovery-oriented approach to learning should permeate science education throughout the undergraduate science curriculum. Increased opportunities for students to do research as undergraduates effectively draw more students to careers in science teaching and research.
Nearly all faculty have active research programs specifically designed to include undergraduate students. The Chemistry Department believes it is very important that our students not only be involved in doing research, but that they have experience in communicating their results and observing professional scientists communicating their results.
The Chemistry Department conducts a regular seminar program. Both students and professionals present their work in this program. All research students give one or more seminars to a gathering of their peers and faculty. Many of them write a formal report and have the opportunity to present their work at local, regional, and national meetings. All research students are invited to attend any professional meeting which faculty will be attending and many do take advantage of this opportunity.