The van, a 2012 Chevy Express cargo model custom-made to meet the program's specific transportation and safety needs, was purchased with a $30,000 donation from Dow underscoring the company's long-standing commitment to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
Chemistry Road Show Coordinator Dr. Jim Pennington says the gift, made to the Department of Chemistry through the Texas A&M Foundation, helps the program where the rubber meets the road literally and figuratively, enabling him to spread the joy of chemistry to previously unvisited regions of the Lone Star State and thereby benefit additional K-12 and community audiences.
"I'm very excited about this," adds Pennington, an instructional assistant professor of chemistry and 13-year member of the Texas A&M faculty. "It was very generous of them, and I'm glad Dow was interested in donating the money. Their generosity allows us to focus on the educational aspect of the Road Show, rather than the 'how are we going to afford x, y and z?'"
Pennington says the prospect of a new ride for an old educational standby initially came up late last year in casual conversation with Joe Asiala, recently retired Global Manufacturing Director for Dow, concerning the Road Show's status. After learning of the existing van's deteriorating condition, Asiala initiated discussions within the company about acquiring a new one. Soon after, Dow made the decision to proceed on an official gift to the department -- a move that Asiala says was vital not only to the program's existence, but also to ensuring that its exposure wasn't limited to local students.
"The most outstanding thing is the way the Road Show reaches the K-12 students," Asiala explains. "This program is able to keep all grade levels engaged with something tangible so that their interest is not lost along the way. When the opportunity came for us to support the Road Show, it was a perfect fit."
For Pennington and the Road Show staff, Dow's timing could not have been better. The program's previous van had been plagued by a host of mundane-to-major problems, from exterior dents and scratches to failing brakes and worn fuel lines. The final straw came one Friday night last fall when Pennington, who was driving the van back to campus after a show in east Texas, suddenly found himself broke down on the side of the road in Huntsville.
"The Road Show is a valuable educational program and a free public service to its audiences," says Ron Carter, assistant head of the Department of Chemistry. "Thanks to Dow, we now have a safe vehicle to venture out even farther without worrying about getting home."
Beyond reliability, the new van features an interior redesigned to meet safety regulations required for transport of the various chemicals and equipment necessary for the show, as well as to comfortably seat both Pennington and his student-assistant passengers -- typically two -- who help with the show. In addition, the van's exterior sports a colorful and eye-catching graphic wrap that incorporates the Texas A&M and Dow logos and promotes general awareness of the Road Show as well as the unique public-private partnership that helps make it possible.
"The Chemistry Road Show and the long-running relationship between Dow and the Department of Chemistry are two great examples of how Texas A&M University is engaging industry and K-12 education in an effort to produce the kinds of graduates and scientific knowledge necessary to impact Texas and the world," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science.
Coincidently Dow -- along with Shell Oil Company and several other businesses -- helped pay for the original Road Show van nearly 16 years ago as a gesture of good faith in another persuasive professor of chemistry, the late Dr. John L. Hogg, one of the program's primary developers and promoters. At the time, the Road Show was featured only on campus and in nearby towns, but as the educational performances gained popularity and Hogg foresaw the need a reliable and road-worthy vehicle, Dow was one of the several companies at the ready to assist.
Asiala cites Dow's prior involvement with the show, in combination with the many endowed scholarships, professorships and fellowships they have funded for the department during the years, as fitting reason and proper motivation for his company to step in and support the growth of the Road Show yet again.
"You can throw money at a lot of stuff, but without the passion of everyone involved, it's not going to work," Asiala adds. "We've had a very long-term relationship with the Department of Chemistry, and you have a very passionate professor willing to run this program."
Since its inception in the mid-1980s as one of Hogg's greatest lasting legacies, the Road Show has expanded from a handful of annual area shows to more than 50 performances each year seen by roughly 10,000 students in the Brazos Valley and surrounding areas. A free public service, the program continues to be funded by the Department of Chemistry and the College of Science Outreach Program, as well as Dow and Shell.
Pennington, who took over the Road Show in 2008 after Hogg's passing, says he won't mind the long hours of experiment preparation or the increasingly hectic schedule that the new van is likely to bring. For him, the goodwill of sharing the excitement of chemistry with children is enough to inspire him to keep the show going each year and mile traveled.
"I'm a ham; I enjoy getting in front of a crowd, and I enjoy seeing the enthusiasm and the excitement," Pennington says. "I hope it's educational but mostly motivational. I just want to remind kids that science lets them do some pretty cool stuff."
For more information about corporate gifts or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation, go to http://giving.tamu.edu.
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About the Texas A&M Chemistry Road Show: Each year this popular educational outreach program helps introduce thousands of people -- including countless Texas schoolchildren -- to the wonders of chemistry, physics and general science through high-energy presentations at K-12 public schools, libraries and related educational events across the Lone Star State. With the help of exciting and educational demonstrations involving fire, explosions, weird polymers and super-cold materials, Road Show staff seek to ignite imaginations as they inspire a greater appreciation for the important role played by this elemental yet everyday science. To learn more, visit http://www.chem.tamu.edu/roadshow/.
About Dow: Dow (NYSE: DOW) combines the power of science and technology with the "Human Element" to passionately innovate what is essential to human progress. The Company connects chemistry and innovation with the principles of sustainability to help address many of the world's most challenging problems, such as the need for clean water, renewable energy generation and conservation, and increasing agricultural productivity. Dow's diversified industry-leading portfolio of specialty chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses delivers a broad range of technology-based products and solutions to customers in approximately 160 countries and in high-growth sectors, such as electronics, water, energy, coatings and agriculture. In 2010 Dow had annual sales of $53.7 billion and employed approximately 50,000 people worldwide. The Company's more than 5,000 products are manufactured at 188 sites in 35 countries across the globe. More information about Dow can be found at www.dow.com.
Watch a brief video on the Chemistry Road Show on You Tube emphasizing the true value of Dow's gift to the program and its target audience:
Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Dr. Jim Pennington, (979) 845-2686 or email@example.com or Ron Carter, (979) 845-3335 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Road Show Rolls On
Thanks to a new van from The Dow Chemical Company, Texas A&M University's Chemistry Road Show and Dr. Jim Pennington (back row, maroon cap) continue to bring the joy of chemistry and general science to audiences across Texas, including third-grade students and their teacher, Janet Hogg (back row, right) at Pebble Creek Elementary School in College Station.
Where There's Smoke
Pennington, Chemistry Road Show Coordinator, introduces the crowd to the wonders of liquid nitrogen with the help of Road Show mascot, Nitro.
Fires of Inspiration
Dedicated instructor that she is, Mrs. Hogg has money to burn in the name of teaching a somewhat deceptive yet valuable lesson in chemical properties.
A rapt room of roughly 200 delights in watching Pennington make "elephant toothpaste."
In the Beginning
Janet Hogg poses with the original 1994 Chemistry Road Show van, also funded in part by Dow. A 34-year veteran teacher in her own right, she logged many miles in this van alongside her husband, the late Dr. John L. Hogg, a longtime Texas A&M professor of chemistry who was one of the Road Show's primary developers and promoters as well as mentor to current coordinator Pennington.