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ACS’s educational outreach: When rain gives way to flowers

by Peter K. Dorhout, ACS President
May 20, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 21


A photo of Peter Dorhout.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN

You’ve likely heard the old adage, “April showers bring May flowers.” This metaphor for a silver lining in troubling times rang true for me this spring. On April 1, I learned about the passing of a good friend, mentor, and advocate for chemistry and inclusive access to education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): Robert L. Lichter of the ACS Northeastern Section (see page 37).

Bob was a dedicated academic, having been a professor at Hunter College and Stony Brook University as well as serving with the Research Corporation as a program officer and as the executive director of the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation. More than that, however, Bob was a change agent, leaving every program he served better than when he started. That includes the American Chemical Society.

Group photo of students from the University of Puerto Rico.
Credit: Guillermo Colón
Students and volunteers from the University of Puerto Rico system at the Festival de Química.

A proud 50-year member and ACS Fellow, Bob served on and led a number of committees and task-force groups, all in an effort to improve the society for its members. He was a tireless champion for change and inclusion, advancing programs to broaden participation among women and other traditionally underrepresented people in the sciences and helping amplify the voices of those who were not being heard or included. In recognition of his work, he received the ACS Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences in 2010.

Bob was a change agent, leaving every program he served better than when he started.

Project SEED, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, was one of Bob’s celebrated passions. This program has opened the doors to chemistry and other STEM careers for thousands of high school students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, launching many to become the first member of their family to attain a college degree. You may learn more about Project SEED and how to become a supporting partner on the ACS website (

A follow-on program that focuses on supporting students once they get to college is the ACS Scholars Program. You have likely read about this passion of mine in some of my previous messages to the society. This year, working with ACS staff, we launched a refreshed website ( and a weekly social media promotion that features two alumni from the program.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to visit the Scholars website to learn about the outstanding graduates from this successful scholarship and mentoring program. Did you know that ACS has supported and mentored nearly 3,000 students and that more than 90% of all our scholars earn their bachelor’s degrees? You will be amazed at what these young professionals are doing today. Many are paying it forward by becoming mentors themselves. I invite you to join me in supporting Project SEED and the ACS Scholars Program this year.

April started off stormy for me, but it ended on a high note, just the way Bob would have wanted, with student events and recognitions and Chemists Celebrate Earth Week (CCEW). I had the pleasure of meeting chemists from the South Florida Local Section, including ACS members and students from Barry University and Florida International University. I also visited faculty and students at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. While on the road, I met many students who had been involved with Project SEED or who are ACS Scholars—the South Florida Local Section boasts quite a few Scholars alumni.

One of the highlights of this trip was to celebrate CCEW at the Festival de Química in San Juan, P.R., with fellow ACS Board members Ingrid Montes and Immediate Past President Allison Campbell. Hundreds of students from the University of Puerto Rico system schools, along with a number of high schools and other colleges, hosted outreach activity tables along the Paseo de la Princesa, a boulevard where they shared their passion for chemistry with hundreds of parents and children. Despite all the months of adversity after destructive hurricanes last year, the turnout from so many volunteer members and students epitomized the spirit of the volunteer culture of the ACS.


The “can-do” attitude of so many chemists and aspiring chemists in San Juan gives me hope for better months and years to come. Bob Lichter helped me gain a better awareness of and appreciation for promoting an inclusive environment in education and the workplace. He also mentored me through some rainy days. I am honored to have known him. As with so many of his ACS volunteer committee activities and organizational leadership roles, he has left this place better than how he found it. Those are our May flowers.

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


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