Keturah Odoi clutched her smartphone and excitedly brandished it for James D. Batteas, a chemistry professor at Texas A&M University. “Look who I got my picture with,” she said, admiring the image.
Odoi had just snapped a photo with Sharon L. Haynie, a research scientist at DuPont. Haynie also happens to be the only woman to ever win the Percy L. Julian Award, the top prize given to minority scientists by the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). Thirty-three of the awards have been bestowed since 1975.
Odoi, a fourth-year graduate student, and Batteas were mingling at a luncheon during the 39th annual NOBCChE national meeting, held on Sept. 25–28, in Washington, D.C. It was Odoi’s first NOBCChE conference, and the young woman was starstruck.
“She was so open to talking with me,” Odoi recounted. “She asked me about my research and about my goals.”
The Ghana-born chemist traveled to Washington with Batteas and two other grad students, Tiffany Pinder and Brian Mosby, to represent their newly minted local NOBCChE chapter based at Texas A&M.
Prior to this year’s gathering, Batteas had been attending NOBCChE conferences to help the university recruit students and postdocs at the career fairs. After a few trips, he decided the school should get more involved.
“I felt like what I saw at NOBCChE was a larger excitement about science,” Batteas told C&EN. “The students were all so engaged in what they were doing. I thought establishing a local chapter would be a good way to bring that excitement back to the university.”
So he recruited Pinder, now a fifth-year student, to help him get things started. “You need a really motivated person to go out there” and sign up members, Batteas explained.
To apply to become a local NOBCChE chapter, Pinder explained, is a relatively straightforward process. “You have to have 10 students, and they all have to agree to sign up and become NOBCChE members.” She also wrote a mission statement and, along with Batteas and another faculty adviser, Kim Dunbar, got approval from the head of the Texas A&M chemistry department.
For the students, the effort has paid off. They’re planning outreach events in Texas, and at this year’s conference, Mosby presented a research poster, Pinder interviewed with Procter & Gamble, and Odoi, of course, found a new role model.