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ACS Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences

January 8, 2007 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 85, ISSUE 2

Credit: Courtney Fitzwater
Credit: Courtney Fitzwater

Lois Ember

Sponsored by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation

Robyn E. Hannigan "is a leader in promoting diversity by mentoring underrepresented groups," says Scott W. Reeve, an associate professor of chemistry at Arkansas State University. And, he adds, she has also taken the lead in "offering research opportunities and providing the intellectual force behind diversity initiatives."

Over a short period, Hannigan, associate professor of chemistry at Arkansas State, set up two National Science Foundation-funded programs that offer undergraduates research experience. The first, begun in 2000 while she was a postdoctoral fellow at Old Dominion University, encourages minority participation in biogeochemistry. This urban university with a high proportion of minority students still continues the program, despite Hannigan's move to a tenure-track position at Arkansas State.

At Arkansas State in 2004, Hannigan inaugurated RISE, a program for research internships in science for the environment. Both RISE and the program at Old Dominion are "designed to pair a minority student with a mentor to work in a research lab over the summer," explains Old Dominion professor of oceanography Cynthia M. Jones.

Hannigan, 41, comes by her mentoring instinct naturally but also with a little nudge from a former professor who took a then-struggling undergraduate under his wing. "Had it not been for that one professor, I would not be where I am today," Hannigan says. "I always felt that if I ever had the chance to give that kind of support to another student, I would."

And give back, she does. Asish R. Basu, her research adviser at the University of Rochester, where she received her Ph.D. in geochemistry, describes her research lab at Arkansas State as a virtual United Nations of undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. "These students, some representing various disadvantaged groups, are learning to do state-of-the-art research in the chemical sciences," Basu says.

Reeve calls Hannigan's research accomplishments at Arkansas State, a regional midsize institution, "remarkable." Hannigan, he says, "has a passion as well as a genuine gift for doing high-quality science." Because of "her tremendous communications skills, she is able to excite this passion and enthusiasm among her students," Reeve adds.

He also points to her passion for promoting diversity. Hannigan, he notes, served as director of Arkansas State's McNair Achievement Program, which helps prepare underrepresented undergraduates for successful doctoral study. She now is director of the graduate program in environmental science.

"Beyond the classroom, Hannigan actively participates in mentoring minorities through her volunteer work with the NSF leadership panel for Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and with the Society for Advancement of Chicanos & Native Americans in Science," Jones says.

When asked what she does for fun beyond chemistry, she facetiously answers: "Is there something outside of chemistry?" Then, she admits to being "a big fan of video games."

In addition to a Ph.D., Hannigan has two M.S. degrees in geochemistry. She received the first one in 1994 from the State University of New York, Buffalo, and the second one a year later from the University of Rochester.

She is a member of the National Research Council's Board on Earth Sciences & Resources, and she also serves on NSF's Bio Directorate REU Leadership Council. In 2001, she became an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, and in 1995, she was honored as a Ford Foundation Minority Dissertation Fellow.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Geochemistry.



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