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No Limits For NOBCChE

Annual meeting of black chemists and chemical engineers looks to the future

by Rachel Petkewich
May 7, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 19

Credit: Rachel Petkewich/C&EN
Hunt and Francisco (from left) pose with NOBCChE Vice President Isiah Warner, ACS Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs, and NOBCChE Executive Board Chair Bobby Wilson during the meeting.
Credit: Rachel Petkewich/C&EN
Hunt and Francisco (from left) pose with NOBCChE Vice President Isiah Warner, ACS Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs, and NOBCChE Executive Board Chair Bobby Wilson during the meeting.

FAMILIES FLOCK to Orlando year-round to reconnect and spend time together. Last month, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) gathered in this family-friendly city for its annual meeting.

"Orlando is a place for family, and family is what NOBCChE is all about," said the group's president, Joseph S. Francisco, a professor of chemistry and of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University.

The NOBCChE forum traditionally delivers a unique mix of technical programming as well as professional development and networking opportunities to nurture its members at all stages of their careers, and this year was no exception. A total of 668 registered participants—from middle schoolers to retirees—engaged in the forum's many activities, including a career fair, poster session, financial planning workshop, health symposium on obesity, science fair, and science bowl competition. The theme for the 34th meeting was "No Limits. Know the Future. Know NOBCChE."

Reatha Clark King, former president and board chair of the General Mills Foundation, started off the week with an inspiring lecture about not accepting personal or professional limits. At the meeting, she received an award named after Henry Hill, a service-minded chemist she characterized as a man who didn't complain—"he made better use of his time." King spoke about how she, too, "learned to navigate against" gender- and race-based stereotypes in her own career. She says she was never happy with "good enough," and role models gave her hope to keep going.

King, who in her youth worked in cotton and tobacco fields, described how she had planned to be a home economics teacher but got hooked on chemistry during a required class in college. She holds a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago and an M.B.A. from Columbia University. In her career, she worked as a chemical researcher, professor, and academic administrator, and she currently serves on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards of directors.

"I never left chemistry, and chemistry never left me," King said, adding that her scientific training served her well in all of her roles, including philanthropy. But aside from solid technical knowledge, King also learned that leadership requires numerous intangible attributes, including good listening skills, vision, and commitment.

2007 NOBCChE Science Competition Winners

Each winner received a TI-84 Silver edition graphing calculator and an individual medal. Each team received a trophy. Agilent Innovation awardees received a data collection system from Vernier.


Senior Division (Grades 10-12)

1st Place: Timbuktu, The Real-ieuxs, Baton Rouge, La. Team members: Raffeal Bennett, Aaron Gebrelul, Devin Guillory, Phillip Sangokoya

2nd Place: Saginaw All-Stars, Saginaw, Mich. Team members: Newton Davis, Charlie Fancher, Jayvon Garth, Jaleissa Speight, Nicholas Triantafillou

3rd Place: Alpha Bootes, Midland, Mich. Team members: Christian Allemang, Kelvin Carter, Sierra Stringfield, Amanda Vo

Junior Division (Grades 7-9)

1st Place: Phoenix 4, Detroit, Mich. Team members: Ashleigh Artist, Jeremy Cooper, Raven Love, Cherice Todd

2nd Place: Freeport 1, Freeport, Texas. Team members: Estevan Cantu, Cameron Hobbs, Iwest Strambler IV, Xavier Strambler, Joshua Waddy

3rd Place: Timbuktu, The Rillieuxs, Baton Rouge, La. Team members: Khristian McFarland, Bria Murray, Robert Peterson, Sabrina Stansberry


1st Place: Joshua Roach, The Imani School, Houston, Texas, for "Can Gatorade Power Your Battery?"

2nd Place: Newton Davis, Saginaw Public School, Saginaw, Mich., for "An Analysis of Recovery Rates in a 1 M Potassium Hydroxide Alkali Fuel Cell."

3rd Place: Leonard Clay, Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center, Dallas, Texas, for "The Invisible Eye."

Agilent Innovation Awards: Leonard Clay & Joshua Roach

Service Award: Jonathan Wosen, The Pruess School (UCSD), San Diego, Calif.

Another attendee receiving an award at the meeting was Kenneth R. Carter, associate professor of polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was honored with the Percy L. Julian Award, NOBCChE's most prestigious award. It recognizes significant contributions to pure and applied research in science or engineering.

The son of a chemist, Carter said he viewed Julian as a role model. Carter spent 13 years at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., before he ventured into academia. He gave a talk about his work with polymers in applications such as microelectronics, dielectrics, organic electronic materials, nanopatterned materials, and biological materials.

DURING A LUNCHEON address at the meeting, Catherine T. Hunt, president of the American Chemical Society and technology partnerships leader at Rohm and Haas, observed that in light of all the exciting developments in technology and pressing global problems, now is the best time to be a chemist.

"We teach to put information into kids' heads, but we also need to tell them what hasn't been done," she said, referring to, for example, achieving sustainable food and water supplies. She also mentioned themes that are a focus of her presidential term—innovation, collaboration, and education.

Working with and educating the public were themes that Kenneth Olden kept in mind when he was director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He delivered the ACS Distinguished Scientist Address, speaking about the environment, human health, and community outreach.

Trained as a geneticist, Olden currently is a visiting professor at Harvard University School of Public Health. But harking back to his NIEHS days, he described how the environment entered into the equation of disease, along with genetics and behavior. Olden crafted an analogy to educate the public: "Genetics loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger."

Olden emphasized the importance of pairing good science and medical treatment with good community outreach programs. Ask yourself, he said, "What does your published paper do to alleviate human misery?" The best place to start, he suggested, is by educating kids, who are the future.

Meeting attendees also heard technical presentations in core areas of chemistry and had opportunities to participate in professional development workshops. NOBCChE collaborated with the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists for a daylong symposium on helping women be more effective when leading or participating in professional discussions, meetings, or negotiations. The workshop also offered tips on how to deal with people who have different personalities and learning styles.

Science educators in elementary, middle, and high schools participated in a full-day workshop where they learned about various teaching strategies and techniques, as well as about resources that can help get minority and underrepresented students interested in careers in science and technology. Among the presenters were representatives from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In two professional development workshops, attendees learned about managing technical professionals and heard tips for better navigating research grant application processes at the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Students from across the nation were busy with a number of competitions. For undergraduates, the first Dolphus E. Milligan Graduate Student Fellowship was awarded at the meeting. The award consists of a two-year, $30,000-per-year graduate fellowship at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a summer internship at the Chemical Science & Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards & Technology. Both institutions support the annual award, and NOBCChE sponsors the competition.

Rising stars
Credit: Rachel Petkewich/C&EN
Rennisha Wickham (from left), Pichon, Domonique O. Downing, and Cathy Cherenfant each gave a presentation in the Milligan Graduate Student Fellowship competition.
Credit: Rachel Petkewich/C&EN
Rennisha Wickham (from left), Pichon, Domonique O. Downing, and Cathy Cherenfant each gave a presentation in the Milligan Graduate Student Fellowship competition.

FOUR FINALISTS chosen from the national competition presented talks about their summer research. Monique Pichon of Xavier University in New Orleans was selected by a panel of judges as the winner. The other three finalists received cash awards that were matched by the Milligan family. Dolphus Milligan held a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, worked at NIST, and helped found NOBCChE.

Students in grades seven through 12 had two opportunities to show their stuff: in a science bowl and a science fair.

The science bowl competition was divided into junior and senior divisions. For the first time, the competition had a round robin format. Teams of four players were randomly grouped in their division, and each team played the same number of rounds. The top three teams advanced to a double-elimination final competition. The winner of the senior division (grades 10–12) was The Real-ieuxs from Baton Rouge, La. In the junior division (grades seven through nine), the winner was the Phoenix 4 team from Detroit, Mich.

Eighth through 11th graders competed in this year's science fair. Joshua Roach of Imani School, in Houston, took first place for his project, "Can Gatorade Power Your Battery?"

In his last speech at the annual NOBCChE meeting as the organization's president, Francisco reflected on progress made in the past year and on some plans for next year's meeting. "The state of NOBCChE under my watch has been healthy," he said. Noting some of the year's accomplishments, he said that task forces were established to focus on member value, young professionals, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), international outreach, and capturing the history of NOBCChE. In addition, an amendment creating a new assistant treasurer position was passed, a historical video was produced, and a town hall-style meeting was incorporated into the national conference.

Francisco added that, in 2008, NOBCChE plans include joint conferences with science societies in Africa, a joint meeting with the International Society of African Scientists, and starting up more chapters in Canada and the Caribbean. Among the plans for next year's meeting are a roundtable discussion with HBCU department chairs, a mentoring program, an all-day symposium for chemical engineers, and management training courses.

New officers also were announced, including Victor R. McCrary as president. McCrary, a business area executive for science and technology at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory, and the other new officers will take the reins for their two-year terms in July.

The next NOBCChE annual meeting is scheduled for March 24–29, 2008, in Philadelphia.


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