Volume 87 Issue 5 | p. 35 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: February 2, 2009

A Challenge To ACS Members: Reach Out To American Indian Scientists

Department: ACS News
Thomas H. Lane
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Thomas H. Lane
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

WE IN ACS often talk about the value of diversity and the importance of accepting all those who seek us out. However, when you are the 800-pound gorilla in the room, your sheer size can be a deterrent to initiating and building a relationship. For this very reason, we as ACS members should make personal connections. We must be the first to extend a hand in friendship, with an open mind and a sincere willingness to learn.

This past October, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the 30th National Meeting of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES). This event, which took place in Anaheim, Calif., had more than 1,800 conference attendees. ACS was there to extend its hand in friendship and professional respect at this special anniversary event. ACS acknowledged the tremendous value that AISES has provided for American Indians and Alaskan Natives for the past three decades.

I spoke with the elders, staff, and students of AISES. I listened and learned about the achievements, dreams, and hopes of a brilliant group of students who want to improve people's lives, but who know little of the transforming powers of chemistry. In my conversations, I realized that our discipline is neither understood nor trusted. Most of the attendees with whom I spoke respect Earth and too often see chemistry and chemicals as an assault on their way of life. It is up to us as chemists to demonstrate how chemistry is essential in saving lives and improving Earth.

In addition to a booth at the exposition, ACS also had a workshop where Mary Kirchhoff, director of the ACS Education Division, addressed a packed room on green chemistry. The audience was engaged, interested, and clearly wanted to learn. It was also clear that chemistry and chemicals were on their concerned minds. The questions were plentiful and ranged from nanotube safety to our position on the environment. Each question was asked forthrightly with a clear interest in learning science.

After the session, I met with a young Native American chemist. (You may not be aware, but ACS, with more than 160,000 members, has only 271 members who are self-identified as Native Americans.) Her question was single in focus and direct: "What does ACS do for me as a Native American?" Unfortunately, I had to answer, "Very little."

We ACS members must accept the responsibility to extend our hand, in friendship, first. Reaching out to all—listening, learning, and building relationships with those who may need our help.

Then we spoke of why I elect to maintain my membership in the society. It is not for the "210 member benefits" or access to journals; rather, the society is the vehicle through which I can give back to my discipline. This young chemist was passionate about her science and the need to reach the children of her reservation and to provide them with life-changing experiences. Our conversation ended with her renewed interest in the society and the hope that her local section was a potential resource for her passion: helping children learn about the transforming power of chemistry.

We ACS members must accept the responsibility to extend our hand, in friendship, first. Reaching out to all—listening, learning, and building relationships with those who may need our help. Relationships are predicated on trust, respect, and acceptance. We must first gather and understand the needs of our friends and communities. Only then can we all begin to work together to create value.

Achieving diversity is not a passive activity. I would like to challenge all of our 189 local sections to reach out to a tribal college or reservation school in your area and to build a new relationship. Bring the wonders of our science to a community of people who are bright, engaging, and caring. I need your help. I plan to continue to build the society's relationship with AISES during my term in the presidential succession. I was honored when one of the elders added me to the "family" and invited our continued participation.

The ACS Department of Diversity Programs (DDP) is a good resource for building collaborations with AISES and other minority advocacy science organizations. DDP engages diverse individuals in the chemical sciences through networking opportunities, leadership development, and recognition programs.

DDP is available to assist members with the challenge I set forth today. If you would like more information on DDP and the programs they offer, please visit www.acs.org/diversity.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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