“Before I was an ACS Scholar, I wasn’t familiar with the American Chemical Society,” says Corina McClure, who was an ACS Scholar from 2012 to 2014, when she was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “Being an ACS Scholar really got me interested and active as an ACS member. And I’m still an ACS member to this day.”
McClure, who now works as an analytical chemist at the US Food and Drug Administration, is on the board of her ACS local section, the Chemical Society of Washington. She says her involvement with ACS, previously as an ACS Scholar and now as an ACS member, has opened doors to new opportunities for her. For example, McClure learned about the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellowship during an ACS event. This experience allowed her to get her foot in the door in the government and start making connections there. “Networking is very important, not to be underestimated,” McClure says.
Before her job at the FDA, McClure did a lot of work in environmental chemistry. She worked for an environmental organization that cleaned up Wilson Bay while she was enrolled at Coastal Carolina Community College. When she went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, she took her passion for the environment with her, conducting research on ocean plastics.
McClure also has a passion for working with kids. While working toward her master’s degree in chemistry from George Mason University, McClure worked with a program that visited elementary school classrooms and did hands-on scientific activities with the students, sparking their interest in science. She later returned to the classroom, working as a chemistry teacher. While she enjoyed working with students, her heart was in the lab.
McClure eventually made her way back to the lab. She landed a job as an analytical chemist for the FDA in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, where she currently works. When asked how she feels being a woman of color in chemistry, a field in which women and minorities are underrepresented, McClure says she sees a unique opportunity to connect with others. As a Mexican American, she is able to share her culture with coworkers. For National Hispanic Heritage Month, she brought her coworkers to the best taco place in town.
While this was a fun opportunity to broaden her coworkers’ horizons, there is a downside to being the only minority in the room, she says. McClure sometimes feels the added pressure of having to work harder to show her peers that she and other Mexican American chemists can “run with the big guys.” She also points out that it can be difficult to connect with colleagues, and she sometimes feels like an outsider.
McClure suggests finding common ground as a means of getting around this discomfort. For example, at networking events, she may not be able to relate to some of her colleagues over shared cultural experiences, but there is the common ground of being a chemist. She may approach a colleague and ask what their favorite chemistry class was and go from there.
McClure recommends that current ACS Scholars get more involved in ACS and use it as an opportunity to network. “A lot of times, it’s not what you know so much as who you know,” McClure says. “Keep your eyes and ears open, and if you see any opportunities, jump on them. You need to go to different events and talk with people because you never know who you’re going to run into and what you can learn from them.”
Niara Nichols is an ACS Scholar and undergraduate chemistry major at the University at Albany. This series brings together current or recent ACS Scholars with early- or midcareer alumni for a conversation. To learn about the ACS Scholars Program or to make a donation, visit www.acs.org/scholars.