As many of their fellow Texas A&M University students were finalizing their plans for the Halloween weekend amid a bye week for Texas A&M Football, chemistry graduate students Gabrielle Risica ’22 and Tiffany Sill ’22 were headed to the world’s biggest stage for climate change.
Risica and Sill, who are in their respective fifth and second years of doctoral study in the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, are among 10 students nationwide selected to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change as student representatives of the American Chemical Society (ACS). This is the 11th year ACS has sponsored students, and Risica and Sill are the most recent from Texas A&M to earn the distinction along with 2018 Texas A&M chemistry Ph.D. graduate Wilmarie Marrero-Ortiz ’18, who attended #ParisCOP21 in 2015.
Risica and Sill are participating in the first week of COP26, hosted by the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow with a key aim of finalizing the Paris Agreement’s implementation guidelines. While abroad, the ACS-sponsored attendees will blog their observations about the U.N. climate talks, called the Conference of the Parties (COP), to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCCC). The group will interview scientists, policymakers and national leaders and discuss how the known science of climate change may be incorporated into international policy.
“I am honored to have been selected as a delegate to represent the ACS as a student-professional and observe this years United Nations Climate Change Conference,” Sill shared via her Twitter account upon learning about the honor earlier this summer. “We will be on a panel at the National ACS Meeting to discuss the event. #COP26, here I come!”
“I am thrilled to be a part of this life-changing opportunity,” Risica likewise posted on her LinkedIn profile only days later in late July. “As a non-government observer delegate, I will be witness to some of the greatest minds in climate policy as we work towards a greener planet.”
The ACS-sponsored team aims to promote climate change literacy among college and university students by employing social media as a tool and the U.N. as a platform to educate and to engage others in climate change discourse. Throughout their time in Glasgow, the student delegates will be live reporting on conference activities, writing posts for the COP26 blog and related social media accounts. Fittingly via Twitter during Nov. 1 opening remarks, Sill shared, “We are in Glasgow to turn ideas into action!”
“The world’s leaders have some choices to make outlining goals for the world,” Sill added in a subsequent Nov. 2 tweet. “The private sector across the globe has already begun to implement their own changes, adding even more pressure for decisions.”
Risica earned a bachelor of arts in liberal arts and sciences from Sarah Lawrence College in 2017 before coming to Texas A&M to pursue her Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry as a member of Texas A&M chemist Michael Nippe’s research group. Her research focuses on the effect of different molecular architectures on the performance of lanthanide-based single-molecule magnets for qubit, data storage or energy-generation applications. She previously served two years as a graduate teaching assistant within the department (2017-2019) and is heavily involved in service to Texas A&M Chemistry and the broader campus community. In addition to being a member of the department’s web committee since 2019, Risica has organized various hands-on activities for the annual Texas A&M Chemistry Open House and Science Exploration Gallery and volunteered as an event coordinator for the Texas Science Olympiad since 2018. She has also served on executive boards for multiple student organizations, including the Graduate Student Association of Chemistry, the Phi Lambda Upsilon Honorary Chemical Society and Women In Science and Engineering. Risica hopes to pursue a career in science policy and communications and is especially interested in connecting her doctoral research to global progress in the fight against climate change.
“Gabby is an intellectual and creative force in the lab, where she is developing innovative molecular approaches to challenges in the area of quantum information science,” Nippe said. “She is also a fantastic communicator and an ambassador for diversity, equality and student rights in the department, college, and university as the 2020-21 president of the Graduate Student Association of Chemistry, the PR coordinator for Women In Science and Engineering and an event coordinator for the Texas Science Olympiad. I’m excited that Gabby was selected for this prestigious honor.”
Sill, a first-generation student and a mom of three, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science in chemistry from California State University San Bernardino prior to coming to Texas A&M in August 2020 to pursue an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry and materials science and engineering. In addition to being a 2020 Aviles and Johnson Fellow and a 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, she is a member of Texas A&M chemist Sarbajit Banerjee’s research group, where her research focuses on utilizing machine learning and automated synthesis to design nanocomposite coatings for a variety of energy-relevant technologies. Sill is also active in educational outreach events, including ACS National Chemistry Week programs and Texas A&M Chemistry Open House. As an undergraduate, she created and implemented a STEM program that brought science into an afterschool program for underprivileged children in the heart of San Bernardino. She hopes to use her Ph.D. to uplift her impoverished community that has supported her on her journey and inspire other students from all backgrounds to follow their dreams.
“Tiffany is an incredibly talented, creative and utterly tenacious young scientist,” Banerjee said. “Her research on vehicle lightweighting puts her in the trenches in decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors. She has a deep understanding of the challenges that lie ahead and the need for innovation and pragmatism.”
For more information on graduate programs in the Department of Chemistry, go to https://www.chem.tamu.edu/graduate/.
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