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Industry Paves The Way For ACS Scholars

by Diane Grob Schmidt, ACS President
April 27, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 17

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Photo of Diane Grob Schmidt, ACS President.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

The ACS Scholars Program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The program was established to enable gifted, underrepresented minorities with a financial need to earn a bachelor’s degree in the chemical sciences and engineering. Last month, Catherine T. Sigal, chair of the ACS Development Advisory Board, described facts and figures attesting to the program’s success in changing the “face of chemistry” (C&EN, March 9, page 40). And perhaps you’ve been reading the amazing stories about ACS Scholars that C&EN has been featuring once a month.

My own association with the program is truly up close and personal, and I want to share my experiences as well as those of some ACS Scholars with you.

I recently retired from Procter & Gamble after a 32-year career. While there, I was honored to facilitate P&G’s annual contributions to support ACS Scholars. P&G values diversity in every way—ethnic, racial, geographic, gender—because like many other companies and organizations, P&G believes diversity in all its many forms leads to better ideas. Better ideas lead to more innovation, and innovation leads to business success.

I am proud to tell you that P&G has sponsored 41 ACS Scholars and hired more ACS Scholars than any other company. I was there when many of them started. They were all exceptional! More than a dozen former ACS Scholars sponsored by P&G or other companies are now working at P&G, and many other ACS Scholars sponsored by P&G have gone on to graduate school or other careers.

One of the ACS Scholars success stories at P&G is Jacqueline Thomas (C&EN, July 26, 2010, page 43). Growing up in a Hispanic family in South Texas, Thomas knew that embarking on a career in science wasn’t the most popular venture, but she did it anyway. While attending Texas A&M University, Kingsville, she won an ACS Scholars award. It helped pay her tuition and fees during the final two years of her undergraduate schooling, allowing her to focus on her studies. Eventually, she entered Texas A&M in College Station and earned a Ph.D. In 2008, she joined P&G in Cincinnati, where she does research and mentors other ACS Scholars.

I also want to share stories of some scholars who were sponsored by P&G and went on to work elsewhere. Their stories are similar to the ACS Scholars I knew at P&G.

Christina Fields-Zinna was an ACS Scholar sponsored by P&G from 2001–05 (see page 37). She received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Harvard University and then received a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She praises Gregg Tucci, codirector of undergraduate studies in chemistry at Harvard, for being her mentor throughout her undergraduate career. He encouraged Christina to get a Ph.D. and urged her to be flexible about other possible career paths. Today, Christina works at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Toxicology Division. She says she couldn’t have done it without P&G’s help.

Another Harvard graduate, Sharon O. Doku, was the first person in her family born in the U.S. to go to college. Her parents were born in Ghana. The ACS Scholars Program and P&G’s support enabled her to pursue her passion—chemistry. After graduating with a bachelor’s in chemistry, physics, and German, Doku went to Georgetown University, where she received a law degree. Today, she is a capital markets/finance lawyer at the Frankfurt office of the international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. “Most of my clients are biochemical, chemical, automobile, or manufacturing companies,” she says. “I am one of the few lawyers who actually understands the underlying business. Clients notice this!”

Marie Southerland was also an ACS Scholar sponsored by P&G as an undergraduate at Ashland University. “I am still thankful for the generosity of P&G for funding me,” she says. “Without P&G, I wouldn’t have the same opportunities I have today.” Southerland is working toward a Ph.D. at the University of Akron, and who knows, perhaps someday she’ll work at P&G in research.

These are just a few ACS Scholars success stories. Although I’ve highlighted women, the program has had great success for men. At the ACS meeting in Denver, donors to a reception honoring ACS Scholars met Sergio Bañuelos Jr., who told his story: He was an unmotivated student in high school who spent nine years in the Army before attending community college. He was studying to be an X-ray technician but then was encouraged by a teacher and won an ACS Scholar award. He is now at Stanford University working on a B.S./M.S. degree in chemical engineering.

What all these students have in common is a teacher who believed in them, a mentor who helped them through their college years, and the support of generous companies such as P&G. And there are many other companies and organizations that have supported the ACS Scholars Program over the years. This is a program that works, and as P&G says, “It’s the right thing to do!”

If you work in industry and you would like to find out how your company can help prepare the next generation of chemical scientists, please go to or contact Kathy Fleming at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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