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Senior chemists in action

by Robert A. Yokley, member, ACS Senior Chemists Committee
May 27, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 20


Senior Chemists Committee on a Zoom meeting.
Credit: Courtesy of ACS
Northern Oklahoma College instructor Frankie Wood-Black (top left), Senior Chemists Committee chair Arlene Garrison (top right), CEO Tom Connelly (bottom left), and Director of Meeting Operations Robin Preston (bottom right)

Senior Chemists Committee chair Arlene Garrison invited committee member Robert A. Yokley to share the recent activities of the committee. Yokley is chair of the Senior Chemists Committee Local Sections Subcommittee.

Amid the unprecedented upheaval and novel challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Chemical Society Senior Chemists Committee (SCC) continues to serve its members, building bridges between young and experienced chemists and advancing the field through vital trainings and financial support. Despite the pandemic, the committee met all its 2020 goals and expects to meet 2021 targets as well.

The move to virtual meetings was a significant change for many local SCC chapters. To help facilitate the transition to online events, the committee created a mini grant program in 2020 to encourage both senior members’ engagement and mentoring of young people interested in chemistry. Many local section senior chemists’ groups received funding through the program, including the Indiana Section, which held a Senior Chemists Mentorship Program with 60 participants to encourage more student involvement with ACS. The event matched mentors to mentees and provided materials and sage advice to help mentees in their desired career paths. The program was so successful that the Indiana Section developed a subcommittee to keep up with the student interest. The Kentucky Lake Local Section (which spans more than 20 counties in southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and northwestern Tennessee) used its grant to allow four undergraduate students the opportunity to interview senior chemists on their careers and experiences in a series of Q&A videos. The result highlighted the unique perspectives of Harris Fannin, Erica Gray, and Fred Allen. In Georgia, the state ACS section held a Junior-Senior Chemists Recognition event in which lifelong chemists offered advice to budding scientists. The session also honored 50-, 60-, and 70-year-long ACS members, as well as winners of the local chemistry olympiad and their teachers.

Supporting a diverse pipeline. In response to the national dialogue on race ignited by the death of George Floyd, the SCC reaffirmed its commitment to addressing racism in the field of chemistry. The committee hosted a webinar, “Senior Chemists Action Agenda to Address Systemic Racism,” to solicit feedback on actions that address systemic inequalities in chemistry. Asking how chemists can increase the number of historically underrepresented groups in the pipeline, foster and cultivate a diverse workforce, and further align SCC members with the ACS’s core value of diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect led to the establishment of two projects to help address these important issues.

In the first project, the SCC is working with the ACS National Chemistry Week team to develop low-cost experiments with accompanying instructions and presenter materials. Many middle school students from historically underrepresented groups have little chance to observe or conduct science experiments. Affordable, ready-made educational materials and experiments not only enable senior chemists to visit with student groups and talk about chemistry as a career but also provide students with fun, hands-on science activities. A pilot project is underway, and the committee expects to expand implementation by fall 2022.

The second project is aimed at encouraging the pursuit of a chemistry education at the college level. The SCC started a fundraising campaign with current and past members to help increase funding for the ACS Scholars Program with the ACS Office of Philanthropy. The ACS Scholars Program works to increase the diversity of the chemistry profession by awarding college scholarships to chemistry majors from historically underrepresented groups.

The American Chemical Society Senior Chemists Committee (SCC) has continued to serve its members, building bridges between young and experienced chemists and advancing the field through vital trainings and financial support.

SCC at the ACS meeting. The SCC led sessions at ACS Spring 2021 on topics related to new social distancing and safety guidelines. One session, “How to Embrace the New Norm and What That May Look Like,” focused on how COVID-19 has changed the manner in which we communicate, learn, and meet; how it has affected older chemists’ ability to travel and perform volunteer work; and how to adjust and thrive amid the challenges.

Additionally, through a partnership program with the Younger Chemists Committee, senior chemists shared experiences, expertise, and networks, and younger chemists shared new platforms for communication, technology, and how the career landscape has changed at the event Networking with Chemistry Professionals and Students. The committee also cosponsored a “Planning for Retirement” symposium with the ACS Division of Professional Relations at the spring meeting.

We invite you to connect with the SCC. Join the mailing list to receive the Newsletter for Senior Chemists to stay up to date on volunteer activities by senior chemists, life after retirement, hobbies, science, and more. Send a request to to be added to the list.

To share your suggestions and comments on how we can use the knowledge and experience of senior chemists to benefit others, please feel free to contact me at, or reach out to SCC chair Arlene Garrison at

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



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