Breaking barriers: UC grad students cultivate diversity in chemistry 

Graduate consortium celebrates 10 years of cultural change in STEMM

Fiona Wasson had always been drawn to breaking barriers. She came to the University of Cincinnati in 2021 to earn her doctorate in chemistry, determined to form an organization for new women in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine, or STEMM.

Little did she know she would discover a graduate consortium driven to foster a culture of excellence rich with diversity.

Now, the UC Consortium for Cultural Diversity in Chemistry is nearing its 10th anniversary with Wasson as its president. 

The consortium was established in 2014 in the chemistry department of UC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Founders DeVonna Gatlin, a UC doctoral student, and chemistry Professor James Mack, now dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, hoped this new organization would provide underrepresented individuals a platform to excel in their respective scientific fields and to become mentors for generations to follow, Gatlin said.

These efforts have come to life through internal resources, cultural outreach programs and philanthropic partnerships with other STEMM-based groups at UC. 

Agents for inclusivity

According to Chemical & Engineering News, the chemistry workforce reported that 35% of chemists are women, and only 4% are Black. Hispanic or Latino people represent about 7% of working chemists.

Headshot of Anntonette Perry.

Anntonette Perry. Photo/Provided

In these demographics, former president of the consortium Anntonette Perry saw a need to continue opening doors in chemistry to underrepresented minorities and women. 

“My goal as the president of CCDC from 2020 to 2023, was to promote an inclusive graduate student organization,” Perry said.

“I wanted to provide a platform that catered to domestic and international students that showed impartiality and still celebrated diversity.

“Before becoming president, being a member of CCDC meant having a space to gather with people of color that I can relate to and speak on the experiences of being a woman of color in science,” Perry said.

Under Perry’s presidency, social events to foster communication between incoming graduate and senior graduate students were added to celebrate diversity and provide informative services in the department. 

At the heart of the consortium lies students dedicated to maintaining the mission of diversity and inclusion. 

A vibrant, supportive community

Headshot of Fiona Wasson

Fiona Wasson. Photo/Provided

For her part, Wasson says she found a vibrant hub of community and support in CCDC. 

“Grad students have the unique opportunity to promote mentorship, visibility, celebration, addressing bias and stereotypes, collaborate with multidisciplinary backgrounds, and overall can provide access and support to others,” she says. 

“For me, women supporting women for growth and resources has been a really strong resource in striving for advancement during my educational career,” said Wasson. 

“CCDC itself is about being a place for communities to highlight varying backgrounds, perspectives, and journeys to better understand how to navigate our diverse world in conjunction with science.” 

Driving better science

Since its inception, CCDC has caught the eyes of the chemistry department, and serves as an example for the other fields in STEMM. 

“Increasing efforts like this across the college could also lead to more collaboration, and it does not have to be just natural sciences,” said Ryan White, divisional dean of natural sciences. “I think more consortiums can really lend to creating a sense of community.

“Seeing these efforts grow, and figuring out ways to support these efforts in in these groups, should be and will be a priority moving forward. We benefit when there are multiple different approaches in the room thinking through an experiment. I think this helps drive better science and better outcomes.” 

Moving the chemistry community forward 

Although the job is not finished for the consortium, the dozens of staff and students who have had their graduate years transformed will take their experiences and share them with the world.  

“As we explore science, it is important to see topics from multiple perspectives which diversity adds to,” says Wasson. “This importance is clear also because when providing solutions for society, we must include all members as to not forget diverse needs for diverse people.”

Featured image at top: UC's Consortium for Cultural Diversity in Chemistry is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Photo/Pawan Parihar/Unsplash.

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Serigne Thiam

Student Journalist, A&S Marketing and Communication

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