posted September 30, 2013

Chemistry Department Honored for Advancing Diversity

The department of chemistry at Hope College is being honored by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and its Committee on Minority Affairs for advancing diversity.

The Midwest Region of the ACS is presenting the department with the 2013 Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences.  The department is being recognized for its involvement of underrepresented minorities, women and students from diverse educational backgrounds in its summer research and academic year programs.

The award will be presented during the Midwest Regional Meeting of the ACS, being held on Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 16-19, in Springfield, Mo.  Dr. Kenneth L. Brown, associate professor of chemistry, will accept the award on the department’s behalf.

“Advancing the chemical sciences through transformative educational and research opportunities for underrepresented minority students and women is a prime objective at Hope,” Brown said.  “The college’s and department’s activities have increased diversity on campus and in the chemical sciences in a meaningful and significant way, coinciding with the goals of the American Chemical Society to achieve a broader representation of students entering STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] disciplines on a national scale.”

Major initiatives at the college have included developing relationships with community colleges, with a particular emphasis on providing members of underrepresented groups with opportunities to participate in collaborative research and seek a four-year degree from Hope after completing their two-year community-college program.  Resources for students from underrepresented groups in the sciences include the peer-mentoring FACES (Fostering A Community of Excellence in Science at Hope College) program, which pairs new students with upperclassmen who share the benefit of their experience with Hope and also offers seminars, career counseling and other activities.  Activities specific to the department of chemistry include supporting students to attend the national meeting of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChe).

“A unique aspect of Hope’s chemistry program is its close interaction with regional two-year colleges,” said Dr. William F. Polik, who is the Edward and Elizabeth Hofma Professor of Chemistry and chairperson of the department at Hope.  “In our model, students at two-year colleges work on pre-training research projects at their two-year college and then apply for a summer research position in the chemistry department at Hope College.”

The emphasis, Polik said, is on helping the students to succeed, a priority borne out by results.  “These students have a demonstrated record of presenting their scientific work at regional and national meetings, publishing their work in the scientific literature, and attending professional schools or graduate school in chemistry upon graduation,” he said.

Hope was nominated for the award by Dr. Thomas Higgins, who is the Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and chairperson of the department at Harold Washington College of the City Colleges of Chicago.  From 2007 to 2011, Hope was a partner institution in an NSF-funded program led by Higgins to provide additional STEM opportunities for students at metro-Chicago two-year colleges, some 42 percent of whom come from underrepresented groups.

“Since community colleges educate almost half of the nation’s undergraduates and collectively educate the most diverse student body with respect to ethnicity, age and financial status, engaging these students is of critical importance as the nation seeks to rapidly grow and diversify its scientific workforce,” Higgins said.  “This department deserves this award because of its contributions to broadening participation in chemistry by actively reaching out to community college students and the extraordinary lengths the entire Hope College community goes to support these students, help them complete undergraduate degrees, and ultimately become scientists.”

Higgins noted that Hope’s involvement in particular made an important difference to the students, both professionally and personally.

“The transformation these students underwent as a result of their summer at Hope College was no less than amazing,” he said.  “All of these students returned from Hope College more confident in their skills as young scientists and more mature young adults.  They all expressed how the research environment at Hope pushed them to grow in ways they did not envision prior to the summer, and how the genuine interest Hope’s faculty paid to them made their time away from home both educational and enjoyable.  This makes it apparent that Hope College values not only the student as a scientist, but also as a holistic and healthy individual.”