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Encouraging Next-Gen Chemists

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
January 26, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 4

Last week I mentioned the ACS Scholars Program, which awards scholarships to underrepresented minority students who want to enter chemistry or chemistry-related fields. The reason I highlight it now is that 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the program, and C&EN is celebrating this landmark with a monthly profile of an individual who has participated in it. Our first profile is in this issue.

The ACS Scholars Program is a great success story. In 1994, the leadership at ACS recognized the need to ensure a talented and diverse workforce in the chemical sciences, and so the program was finalized and approved in December of that year. The first ACS Scholars began their studies in the 1995–96 academic year, and since then, thousands of underrepresented students with excellent academic records and financial need have been selected for scholarships and have branched out in almost as many directions.

Of course the ultimate goal of this scholarship and mentoring program is to change the face of the chemical sciences community to better reflect the makeup of the U.S. population. As such, the program has the ability to influence society and change people’s lives for the better.

In our first profile we highlight the career of Daniel J. Mindiola (see page 39). In 1989, Mindiola and his mother immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela. He had to work while he was in high school and struggled at first. Yet, with the aid of his chemistry teacher, he graduated with a 3.5 GPA. In college, his freshman chemistry professor took him into her research group and paid him a stipend so he didn’t have to work at a restaurant. That gave him the break he needed. In his senior year, Mindiola became an ACS Scholar. He earned a B.S. in chemistry, went on to complete a Ph.D. at MIT, then a postdoc at the University of Chicago. He’s now a … well, I won’t give it away!

Mindiola is very special to the program because he was the first ACS Scholar to complete a doctorate. That was in 2000, and 200 more have followed (this milestone was achieved only this month), and there will be many more to come.

I received a firsthand account of how the program changes people’s lives from an ACS Scholar I met at a recent industry event. Vicente Ochoa Jr. is a chemical engineering student at New York University who is currently benefiting from the program. “When I was told I was an ACS Scholar, I was happy that I was going to have more aid, but as I started college, I began to realize the value of the program,” he told me. He’s found the mentorship one of the most valuable parts of the program as he’s been encouraged to explore different areas of chemistry, and to learn more about himself and what he needs to work on. It also provided him with “amazing” opportunities such as “speaking on the panel at the Committee on Minority Affairs luncheon at the 2014 ACS national meeting in San Francisco. It was a rare public speaking opportunity for me,” he said. “It also gave me the opportunity to attend an ACS meeting, and it inspired me to push full steam ahead in research.”

Indeed, the program’s hallmark is the assignment of a mentor to each ACS Scholar. The result of this is a high level of support and engagement, and thus the proportion of students who leave the program is very small. This program is an investment in the future, and I encourage you to volunteer your support as a mentor if you haven’t already done so.

Another education-related item I want to highlight this week is the donation by Dow Chemical of $1 million to the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) (see page 6). AACT, which was started by ACS last year, is the first national membership organization for K–12 teachers of chemistry, and over the next four years, it will work in partnership with Dow to convene a series of teacher summits and create lesson plans, multimedia resources, and chemistry teaching materials for use in classrooms. This is good news for chemistry teachers, who will benefit from quality resources, and ultimately excellent news for the students who will be the recipients of outstanding instruction.

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


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