Engaged Faculty Spotlight: Engagement and Inclusion in the Department of Chemistry

This month, we spotlight community engagement and inclusion efforts in the Department of Chemistry.
September 29, 2022

This month, we spotlight community engagement and inclusion efforts in the Department of Chemistry.

As professor of Chemistry and former chair Matthew Zimmt notes, “the line between outreach and education” is not very clear. In various ways, the department has demonstrated how community engagement and a commitment to equity and inclusion can intersect with excellent teaching, mentoring, and research. Ned Greene was one of the first Brown faculty members to teach at Tougaloo College and a passionate advocate for the Tougaloo-Brown relationship during his nearly five decades at Brown. Many faculty have supported undergraduate summer research assistants who did not have access to research experiences at their home institutions, through NSF grants to the department in the 1980s and 1990s and more recently in collaboration with The Leadership Alliance, a national higher education consortium based at Brown that aims “to train, to mentor, and to inspire a diverse group of students.” More than 800 TLA participants have gone on to earn Ph.D.s, including some who worked with Brown Chemistry professors Sarah Delaney, Amit Basu, and Zimmt.

Recognizing that pathways into STEM also need to start earlier, Chemistry faculty and colleagues from other departments have presented hands-on demonstrations at Martin Luther King Elementary School and at annual Science Conferences at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. Undergraduate students (including David Litt) led demonstrations through “A Night of Chemistry,” which were also shared as YouTube videos viewed hundreds of times over the last ten years. At least three faculty members (Ou ChenBrenda Rubenstein, and Zimmt) have collaborated with Brown and RISD undergraduates to produce broadly accessible videos via Brown’s SciToons program. Each year since 2017, the Chemistry department has hosted a STEM Day for local high school students and expects to do so again this year. The department continues their involvement with high schools during the summer by bringing students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds into college research laboratories for a summer internship through RI ACS Project SEED (co-coordinated by Rubenstein and Jerome Robinson). 

Engaged scholars in the department have received numerous national recognitions, including prestigious NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards, which require significant broader (societal) impacts as well as intellectual merit. These faculty also seek to continue improving outreach and education efforts. Robinson and graduate student Audra Woodside partner with Central High School teachers through the ACS Science Coaches program to help with teachers’ professional development and better connect outreach efforts with the needs of students and teachers. A departmental team participated in the Sheridan Center’s first Seminar for Transformation around Anti-Racist Teaching, and Rubenstein and others on the department’s diversity and inclusion action committee continue to think about how to make STEM more inclusive at Brown and beyond.