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ACS approval of bachelor’s degree programs: Making excellence inclusive

by Edgar A. Arriaga, Chair, ACS Committee on Professional Training
September 23, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 37

 

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Credit: Courtesy of Edgar A. Arriaga

One of the goals of the American Chemical Society approval program for bachelor’s degree programs in chemistry is to promote excellence in educating and training chemists. The Committee on Professional Training (CPT) facilitates this process by defining guidelines and reviewing undergraduate chemistry programs.

Recently, the Association of the American Colleges and Universities adopted “inclusive excellence” as a guiding principle. The association recognizes that to address gaps in student success, there must be an active process through which colleges and universities achieve excellence in learning, teaching, student development, institutional functioning, and engagement in local and global communities. Making excellence inclusive in chemistry education requires looking at excellence through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and it requires the engagement of all students, faculty, staff, and administration.

A discussion of DEI and inclusive excellence begins with a working definition of diversity. Frequently, diversity is taken as a synonym for differences in race and ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, ability, and cultural, political, or religious affiliations. A comprehensive list would also include other important aspects of one’s identity, including age, body size, and veteran status. In academic institutions, diverse perspectives also include first-generation college students. Inclusion takes place when people who possess one or more attributes of diversity (intersectionality) contribute their unique and enriching perspectives to the work or academic environment, when such environment is respectful and welcoming, and when those individuals have a sense of belonging. To be inclusive, though, often requires recognizing barriers and the means to overcome them. Equity then refers to the practice of eliminating these barriers to provide access and opportunity to all individuals.

The recognition that diversity provides a source of creativity and innovation has led to concrete actions to make diversity a priority among employers that hire chemists, as well as academic institutions that train chemists. In academia, many institutions are working to define paths that broaden their diversity at all levels, from administration to faculty to the student body. Institutions with chemistry programs have worked with programs like the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s STEM Equity Achievement (SEA) Change. Chemistry departments have also worked with nonprofits such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and with government agencies like the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health to support academic efforts to increase diversity and promote inclusive excellence in education.

Critical to inclusive excellence is the recruitment, retention, and career advancement of those who teach and train chemists. The OXIDE initiative works to change the academic chemistry infrastructure and reduce inequitable policies and practices that have led to the current demographics among chemistry faculties.

National demographic trends predict that by 2020, 50.2% of children in the US will be members of minority race or ethnic groups, and by 2044, over 50% of Americans will be members of minority race or ethnic groups. The OXIDE 2015 Faculty Demographics Survey (90 schools; 2,196 faculty; academic year 2015–16) revealed that there is still plenty of work to be done in chemistry; it reported that 19% of tenure-track faculty identified as women and 20.9% identified as members of minority race or ethnic groups. Since then, OXIDE is beginning to see evidence that this gap may be closing, as department heads have made commitments to work with their institutions to support DEI and recent hires in these institutions are from more diverse backgrounds. A checklist of strategies and actions to support DEI efforts is available on OXIDE’s website.

Diversity provides a source of creativity and innovation.

These small gains in faculty diversity are also observed through CPT’s evaluation of periodic reports, which are submitted by ACS-approved programs every 6 years. Although most programs are making a directed effort to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their faculty, many are still far from their goals. While it takes time to change demographics, persistent strategic efforts ought to be incorporated not only to change the faculty demographics but also to pursue inclusive excellence.

Is it time to look at excellence in education through a DEI lens? To address this question, CPT collaborated with the Committee on Minority Affairs to hold a focus-group discussion at the recent ACS national meeting in San Diego. Participants exchanged candid comments about the DEI efforts at their institutions that are working, which ones have not worked, the useful resources available, and the perceived threats to advancing the DEI climate at their institutions. Comments from these discussions will be available on our website at www.acs.org/cpt.

As an ACS committee, CPT is committed to working with institutions and the rest of the chemistry community to explore the role that DEI should play in the training and education of chemists. To do this, the committee needs partners and input from the broader chemistry community. A short survey that begins to explore the role that inclusive excellence plays in the education and training of the next generation of chemists is available at tiny.cc/CPT-InclusiveExcellence. The results of the survey are integral to advancing discussions focused on the next set of ACS guidelines and will be available in the fall newsletter as well as on the CPT website.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.

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