Chemistry commended for making strides in diversity

The American Chemical Society’s Committee on Professional Training commended the Chemistry Department’s efforts to build a diverse faculty, particularly by hiring and promoting female faculty members, in renewing its approval of the Chemistry undergraduate program.

The approval, which is reviewed every six years, “certifies a degree of rigor in the program,” said Chemistry Department Head and Professor David Wu. The department submitted a dossier documenting its curriculum, including time spent on foundational topics as well as in-depth course work and research, and had to meet certain standards in lab instructional hours, faculty and staffing levels, and instrumentation and infrastructure.

“When I first started as faculty 20 years ago, there were no women on the Chemistry faculty,” Wu said. The department hired only two in the next 16 years. “In the last four years, however, we hired five women faculty—two tenure-track and three teaching faculty,” Wu said. “But just as significantly, in these last four years, we promoted our first two women full professors.”

“With the increased number of female faculty—especially at the upper levels—in Chemistry and on campus, networking opportunities among women have expanded considerably,” said Chemistry Professor Kim Williams. She noted that having female role models can be helpful for both students and faculty. More than half of chemistry undergraduates and about 40 percent of graduate students are female.

Chemistry Assistant Professor Svitlana Pylypenko said she appreciates a department where women can work alongside other women. “Last fall, female students had a discussion about the importance of having female faculty in their classes and how it impacts their vision of the future,” she said.

The Chemistry Department’s numbers surpass even those of many top chemistry departments, which have seen significant gains in recent years according to a survey conducted by the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity, or OXIDE, an initiative cofounded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy.

Seven of the department’s 20 faculty, or 35 percent, are women, compared to the survey average of 19 percent. Twenty-five percent of the department’s eight full professors are women, compared to the survey average of 14 percent. Women also make up a quarter of the department’s 16 tenured/tenure-track faculty.

“We have always hired the best person for the job, while making sure we have given women candidates full consideration, particularly between close candidates,” Wu said. “In addition, one of our recent hires was an ‘opportunity’ hire, where very strong candidates who also improved diversity were given fast-track consideration.” Wu noted that it is important to provide women the same support as men once they are hired.

The diversity of perspectives, approaches and ideas make for a more balanced culture and helps the department function at its best, Wu said, and knowing they are supported helps women in the department thrive professionally.

The ACS committee also highlighted the Chemistry’s Department’s generous sabbatical program, its excellent facilities and instrumentation, its intense curriculum and the wide range of research opportunities available to undergraduates. The committee also praised faculty for their emphasis on safety information in introductory organic labs.

The committee recommended the department continue to strengthen its bio-related curriculum, a process that is already underway as this is an area of enrollment growth—more than half of chemistry majors are in the biochemistry track. The department is developing a biochemistry laboratory course and plans to hire a new faculty member working in bio-related areas of chemistry, Wu said. “The biochemistry area has also been traditionally one that has been attractive for women.”

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu