From a young age, Chyree Batton knew that she wanted to make a difference in the world. She grew up wanting to cure cancer after her aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Seeing someone struggle with that disease and ultimately die from it, I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to cure cancer. I’m just going to cure cancer so there’s nobody else that has to go through this,’ ” Batton says. After taking and excelling in a chemistry class in high school, she realized she had found her medium to accomplish this goal.
Today, Batton is a PhD chemist working at SC Johnson in Racine, Wisconsin. She credits many influences for her success today and one of those influences was the ACS Scholars program.
Batton attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was an ACS Scholar. It was there that she met Leyte Winfield, who became her adviser and helped her make the decision to pursue graduate school. “Winfield really anchored me there and helped focus my energy so that when I did graduate, I had a purpose, I knew what I was doing, and I could give back,” she says. Batton earned a BS in chemistry from Spelman College in 2009.
Batton went on to earn a PhD in organic chemistry from Louisiana State University, and then accepted a position at SC Johnson working in product formulation. In her current position as an associate manager of chemistry, she has a lot of responsibilities both inside and outside the lab. “I would be considered by SCJ standards a formulator, since I am a chemist. But I’m also a project manager. I’m also a product steward for my brand,” she explains. “I’m the main global contact in repellents so anybody in the company, across the world, if they have a question about a particular active ingredient we use, the raw materials, the packaging . . . they come to me. And so I have to know everything about everything.” Her job responsibilities include a combination of lab work, project management, and mentorship of the laboratory technicians that report directly to her.
So what about her dream of curing cancer? Batton says, “I realized as I was matriculating through college . . . that really, what I wanted to do was to positively impact somebody’s quality of life. And you can do that through medicine. My aunt eventually died, but there were a lot of things that she did to keep her spirits up. This included lighting candles, playing music, getting her hair done, whatever. So I realized I could work in a consumer goods company and actually develop products that I could see on the shelf that were actually impacting the quality of lives of people every day.”
In the future, Batton says she would like to venture outside of the consumer goods industry. She says her position at SCJ has taught her how many things she’s interested in and would still love to learn about. For example, Batton says she would love to work in the aerospace industry. “We’re getting to the point where we might actually travel to another planet and actually get there in my lifetime . . . I really want to be part of it,” she says. “There’s just all these different applications that an organic chemist could do to help.” And her message to current chemistry students, ACS Scholars, and working professionals alike is very similar to the way she is leading her career. “Be willing to stretch the imagination of what you can do with your chemistry degree,” she says. “Explore all possibilities. Be creative with what you want to do.”
Batton credits the ACS Scholars program for much of her success. She says the program was crucial to her undergraduate career and allowed her to focus on her education instead of just the money. She adds that during her time at Spelman College, there were several other ACS Scholars in the chemistry program with her. The connection they developed through the program helped them build a network of students that could study together and elevate each other.
“It’s made an impact,” she says. “The fact that I’ve met other ACS Scholars who are doing really amazing things lets me know that the program is working.”
Jade McDaniel, a recent ACS Scholar, graduated from the University of Toledo last year. She will be starting a PhD program at Vanderbilt University in the fall. This series brings together current or recent ACS Scholars with early- or midcareer alumni for a conversation. To learn about the ACS Scholars Program or to make a donation, visit www.acs.org/scholars.