University graduate student Maisha Kamunde-Devonish@@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Maisha+Kamunde-Devonish@@ can count the number of black students earning a Ph.D. in chemistry on one hand. She’s working to improve this number.
Last month, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) accepted an Oregon chapter led by University students, including Kamunde-Devonish, faculty and staff.
Kamunde-Devonish said when she went to a NOBCChE meeting last year, she realized a lot of minority students were also interested in chemistry.
“So that made me think, ‘Why can’t I have that where I am?'” Kamunde-Devonish said. “Why can’t I have those faces where I work and where I go to school?”
For more than 30 years, NOBCChE has provided opportunities for not only black students, but for all students of color to meet industry leaders and discuss challenges they face in science as a minority.
Kamunde-Devonish, along with Carla Gary@@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=staff&d=person&b=name&s=Carla+Gary@@, assistant vice president at Institutional Equity and Diversity@@http://www.odu.edu/ao/oied/@@, helped create an Oregon NOBCChE chapter for students at every college and university in the state to improve diversity within the science fields.
“You walk around and you don’t see a lot of faces that look like you,” Kamunde-Devonish said. “You think that’s just the nature of the way life is because that’s how most of the sciences are.”
Last year, Gary worked with the College of Arts and Sciences to provide the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry @@http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2011/sep/center-sustainable-materials-chemistry-earns-phase-ii-20-million-funding@@a $12,000 @@this originally said $12,000, which concerns me. http://cas.uoregon.edu/2011/10/20-million-nsf-grant-for-susta/@@ grant to support the department’s steps to increase diversity. So far, 24 students from the University, Portland State University and Eastern Oregon University have joined the chapter.
“Our general goal is to increase the number of minority researchers, scholars, doers and thinkers,” Gary said. “And that’s a huge goal.”
The University has few black chemistry majors. According to the Office of the Registrar, of the 162 undergraduate chemistry majors in fall 2011, less than 10 students were black. Kamunde-Devonish is one of five black students earning a Ph.D. in chemistry.
“I think we have a national problem in sciences especially,” said Darren Johnson, University chemistry professor and faculty sponsor for the Oregon NOBCChE chapter. “By the time we get to the Ph.D. level, we’re really underrepresenting the minority population.”
Farrell Ford, @@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=staff&d=person&b=name&s=Farrell+Ford@@associate director of corporate relations at the Materials Science Institute@@http://materialscience.uoregon.edu/@@, also helped establish the Oregon NOBCChE chapter. She said NOBCChE would help the University recruit more minority students interested in the sciences. She is working on having other schools in the state such as Reed College, University of Portland and community colleges join the chapter.
“My personal goal is to have this organization and our program as well-known as the football program is across the country,” Ford said.
The president of NOBCChE will formally recognize the Oregon NOBCChE student group in Eugene next month and will help plan the chapter’s next steps. Next year, the University will host the NOBCChE Western Regional Meeting in 2013.