Being named an ACS Scholar during his undergraduate years at North Carolina State University “worked out very well for me,” says chemical engineer Jason E. Cummings. “It took a lot of burden off of my parents financially, and I left school debt-free” thanks to the backing provided by the ACS Scholars Program and other programs, he says.
Today, having also completed master’s and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering, Cummings is head of technical operations support and a principal process development engineer for Grifols, a pharmaceutical company in Clayton, N.C. The firm harvests proteins from human blood plasma for drug products targeted at the immune system.
At Grifols, Cummings initiates and manages projects in both the R&D and commercial phases to accomplish the company’s technical and business goals. He assembles and supervises teams of engineers, scientists, and technicians and leads process development, scale-up, and technology transfer activities for new purification technology for protein therapeutics. He holds nine patents and has authored or coauthored 13 publications.
In addition to being an ACS Scholar, Cummings has been named a National Science Foundation Fellow, a 3M Corporate Scholar, a DuPont GEM Fellow, and an Eastman Chemical Scholar.
The 37-year-old Cummings, it seems, is a man reaching the heights of a scientific career that first piqued his interest in the 10th grade.
As Cummings tells it, he was a boy attending an American Indian school in the small town of Pembroke, N.C., a community mostly comprising members of the Lumbee tribe. Cummings’s father is Lumbee, and his mother is a member of the closely related Coharie tribe. In high school, he remembers, a teacher named Mr. Lowry asked Cummings what he saw himself doing one day.
At that time, Cummings says, a bright kid and a good student like himself was often gently pushed to become a doctor or a lawyer. With his love of science, Cummings figured medicine would be his path.
“But Mr. Lowry saw me more as an engineer-type person,” Cummings says. And that observation fit with Cummings’s own experiences: “I was taking biology at the time, but it didn’t interest me as much as physics, chemistry, and math.”
An uncle who is a materials science engineer helped him further hone his interests. So, even before he started college, Cummings began looking at a career in chemical engineering.
His parents also provided plenty of encouragement, Cummings says. His mother holds a degree in sociology, and his father is a Southern Baptist minister. “So, in my family, I have had many living role models,” Cummings says, “and the Native American community has supported me, too.”
But his was not a family of deep financial resources, and so, even before starting undergraduate studies, Cummings searched for ways to fund his education—particularly financial support for minorities. That was how he found the ACS Scholars Program. Through his efforts, he uncovered resources that financed his whole college career.
In May 2000, Cummings graduated from NC State with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He went on to earn master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University. It was there that Cummings met chemical engineering professor T. Kyle Vanderlick, now at Yale University, who inspired him to investigate proteins. One focus of Cummings’s graduate work became studying ways to boost the effectiveness of proteins in maintaining or improving human health.
While completing his education, Cummings did stints as an intern at DuPont, including its Fayetteville Works site in North Carolina, and at 3M in St. Paul. After receiving his Ph.D. degree in 2006, he went to New York to work for IBM Albany Nanotech—a research collaboration of IBM and the University at Albany, SUNY. There, he worked as a semiconductor development engineer and an advisory engineer.
Cummings and his wife of 12 years, Synora, are the proud parents of eight- and six-year-old daughters and a two-year-old son. Like his father, Cummings is involved with his church; he is both a deacon and director of the Sunday school.
Participating in cultural activities with the Native American community is another focus of Cummings’s life outside work. “I am a Southern Plains-style powwow singer,” he says.
He is also concerned with education in the Native American community. He has served as a member of his local American Indian Education Program chapter for the past four years. “This is a federally sponsored program that provides educational opportunities for Native Americans,” Cummings says. “It supports the efforts of local schools to help address the unique academic and cultural needs of Native Americans so that they are better able to meet the same standards as all other students.”
The ACS Scholars Program awards renewable scholarships of up to $5,000 each per academic year to underrepresented minority students who want to enter chemistry or chemistry-related fields. For more information, go to www.acs.org/success.