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March 3, 2003
Volume 81, Number 09
CENEAR 81 09 p. 63
ISSN 0009-2347


ACS COMMENT

CELEBRATING SUCCESS, RENEWING COMMITMENT

SAUNDRA Y. MCGUIRE, CHAIR, COMMITTEE ON MINORITY AFFAIRS

In a February 1993 Chemical & Engineering News Comment, former ACS President S. Allen Heininger described why the American Chemical Society seeks to focus more attention on minorities as follows: "Minorities are the fastest growing part of the U.S. population. Second, they are underrepresented in the sciences. And, third, ACS, as the world's largest scientific society, has a responsibility to reach out to this underserved potential talent base and invite them to participate in the excitement, challenge, and opportunities that literacy in the sciences offers."

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Certainly, chemistry--and the future of the chemical enterprise--must draw its strength from the diversity of all its practitioners if it is to remain the preeminent science it has become.

In July of the same year, the Joint Board-Council Committee on Minority Affairs (CMA) held its first meeting with the charge to conceive, develop, coordinate, and implement programs to encourage and support underrepresented minorities in the chemical sciences. The committee, under the leadership of its first chair--Carlos Gutierrez, of California State University, Los Angeles--focused its work on three basic areas: strengthening the pipeline of minority students aspiring to become chemists, supporting minorities currently in the profession and the society, and forming alliances with minority advocacy organizations that share similar goals of increasing the leadership opportunities for minority scientists.

This year marks CMA's 10th anniversary. To celebrate this special milestone, the committee will present a series of events on the afternoon of March 24 at the ACS national meeting in New Orleans. These events include the committee luncheon with featured speaker Cecil Pickett, president of Schering-Plough Research Institute; a symposium chronicling the 10-year history of the committee; and a combined poster session/reception of about 80 Project SEED participants and ACS Scholars.

The Scholars Program, initiated with a $5 million appropriation from the ACS Board of Directors, is designed to support and enhance the number of underrepresented minority students aspiring to become chemical scientists. Since the program's inception in 1995, ACS has awarded scholarships to more than 1,200 students with excellent academic credentials as well as financial need. To date, the program reports an impressive 80% retention rate.

Of the 436 program graduates, we have been able to track 162 who have entered the chemical workforce and are employed at nationally known companies and government agencies throughout the U.S. Equally impressive are the 199 who have entered graduate programs, and the 54 in this group who are pursuing Ph.D.s. In 2002, five former scholars reported that they were awarded doctorates. We are proud to acknowledge, as the first scholar to receive a Ph.D., Indiana University assistant professor Daniel Mindiola, who will be speaking at our symposium event.

We also are pleased to acknowledge the significant financial support of 25 organizations, 20 individuals, and four ACS local sections to the Scholars Program. Through their generosity, the program has attracted more than $1.7 million in contributions and pledges. These organizations and individuals help affirm the importance of preparing a diverse group of new leaders for tomorrow's challenges.

Increasing the participation and leadership of minority members in the society has been another focus of the committee. As a result of the recent membership campaign, minority membership has increased by approximately 25%. In addition, nearly 30 local sections report activities dedicated to minority recruitment and retention.

During the past 10 years, CMA also worked closely with the board of directors as it expanded its efforts to build alliances with those organizations whose daily activities are dedicated to diversity in the discipline and the chemical science workplace. As a result, ACS has established a significant presence at the annual meetings of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos & Native Americans in Science, and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference of Minority Students, making valuable connections with their members and students, drawing them into society activities.

So what is the future of the committee? In a broader sense, how does looking back propel the work of CMA forward? How does one reaffirm commitment? According to the society's ChemCensus Report, in 2000, African Americans represented 13% of the population but less than 2% of the chemistry workforce; and Hispanics, who number 12% of the population, were approximately 3% of the chemistry workforce. In light of rapidly changing demographics, these numbers make clear that much work is still needed to ensure a technically trained workforce of future leaders, particularly from those groups that currently are significantly underrepresented. The committee is well poised to assist ACS in maintaining current efforts and implementing new ones that will continue the momentum established over the past 10 years.

ACS recognizes diversity as a core value. As the Committee on Minority Affairs celebrates an illustrious 10-year history, we thank the ACS Board of Directors and the Council for their continuing commitment. Certainly, chemistry--and the future of the chemical enterprise--must draw its strength from the diversity of all its practitioners if it is to remain the preeminent science it has become.


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



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