The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has elected George C. Shields, a Furman University chemistry professor, to the rank of fellow in the organization. This year’s cohort includes 443 members; they will be recognized Saturday, Feb. 15, during the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington.
Shields was elected AAAS Fellow for his roles as scientist, teacher, mentor and undergraduate research adviser, as well as his ability to inspire students to seek careers in science and his encouragement of colleagues to pursue research with undergraduates. His election brings Furman’s representation to 11 total fellows since 1933, with chemistry professors Lon Knight (2015) and Charles (Tony) Arrington (2001) the most recent honorees.
“I am extremely honored and humbled for this election as an AAAS fellow,” Shields says. “This is a rare honor in today’s era for a scientist working at an undergraduate institution.”
John Wheeler, Furman chemistry professor and associate provost for integrative science, says, “Furman is indeed distinctive among liberal arts colleges in having had three AAAS Fellows in the last 20 years. Even more remarkable is the fact that within the last five years, out of less than 2,500 scientists worldwide across all disciplines, two AAAS Fellows hail from the same department at the same four-year institution.”
Wheeler says Furman’s culture of excellence in scholarship is rooted in its belief that research is not only important to faculty members, but also as a “means for students to begin professional engagement in their craft.”
“First and foremost, this recognition demonstrates that Furman has a commitment to its student body to provide high-impact experiences and the opportunity for them to work with world-class scientists,” Wheeler says. Research is a graduation requirement in many departments at Furman. Such experiences are uncommon, even at top-ranked research universities, he says.
“The AAAS honor also shows Furman’s commitment to its faculty by giving them the resources, time, space and opportunity to develop professionally at a level where they can be recognized, often on a global stage, for their accomplishments,” Wheeler says.
Shields is known for his work in computational chemistry and is widely published in top peer-reviewed journals, where his citations number in the thousands. His earliest research as a postdoc focused on DNA/protein binding. His work expanded over the years to include studies of aqueous solvation, drug design, pKa calculations (a measure related to pH), water clusters and atmospheric chemistry, all published while serving in leadership roles at five undergraduate institutions. He most recently served as vice president of academic affairs and provost at Furman.
His research in biochemistry led him to develop anti-tumor agents for which he has received two patents.
Throughout his diverse body of work, Shields has mentored 118 undergraduates. To date, 60 of his 88 peer-reviewed publications include undergraduate co-authors.
Forty percent of Shields’ 104 lab alumni have entered Ph.D. programs; 24 percent have gone to professional programs in health or law; 24 percent have completed master programs and 7 percent are now secondary science teachers. Overall, 88 percent of students have gone on to professional degrees or graduate school, including 49 of 57 women, far exceeding the national average.
On a national level, Shields has further spread his passion for undergraduate research by mentoring faculty in his own field through a consortium he established in 2000 – Molecular Education and Research Consortium in Undergraduate Computational Chemistry (MERCURY). Supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, MERCURY is a collaboration of 27 undergraduate research teams from 24 primarily undergraduate institutions across the nation.
Shields holds undergraduate and advanced degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Among other honors, he is the recipient of the 2015 American Chemical Society Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and he is the first professor at an undergraduate institution to receive the Transformational Research and Excellence in Education Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.
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