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Honoring Black History and Creating Future Leaders

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Kelly Montes de Oca
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Black History Month is an opportunity for people of all races to recognize and honor the incredible accomplishments of black scientists. From St. Elmo Brady, the first African American to earn a PhD in chemistry, to Mary Elliott and Carl Hill, who developed novel approaches to polymerization – key steps in the development of plastics – the contributions of Black chemists, toxicologists and biologists have improved lives and driven innovations around the globe.

As a young African American child, my love for science started with the gift of an unassuming red microscope from my parents. I remember spending many days transfixed by my “magic looking glass”, which allowed me to see a tiny world of living things and sparked an unquenchable desire to learn more about biology and chemistry. As I got older, I came to understand what that tiny world of organisms meant, the role of a scientist and the education needed to reach my goal of becoming one. I also realized that there were limited opportunities available to me that could provide a strong science education while also offering financial freedom to cover the expenses of college tuition.

So, it’s probably not surprising that it’s important for me to work with a company that seeks to enhance STEM education through scholarship opportunities and leadership training for underrepresented groups, cultivating a future workforce where diversity, inclusiveness and respect are valued and promoted.

I’m proud to be a part of this important work, starting with ACC’s partnership with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), Chemours and The HBCU Week Foundation to establish the Future of STEM Scholars Initiative (FOSSI).

FOSSI seeks to increase the number of underrepresented professionals by providing $40,000 scholarships to students pursuing STEM degrees at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and connecting these students to internships, leadership development and mentoring opportunities at participating companies. With nearly 30 sponsoring organizations and almost $10 million raised, we are proud of the incredible impact FOSSI will have on our cohort of 2021 FOSSI Scholars, and those to come.

As an African American scientist and an alumni of Texas Southern University, an HBCU, I know first-hand how scholarship opportunities like FOSSI can impact your life. While completing my graduate education, I was privileged to participate in the NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship Program (JPFP). The JPFP was supported through a partnership between NASA and the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation, which provided me three years of graduate funding as well as mentoring, coaching, professional development training and opportunities to work at NASA Centers. Through the JPFP, I was able to alleviate the financial burden associated with pursuing a graduate degree, gain experience and make personal connections with the cohort of students and mentors, which I continue to draw on to this day.

Similarly, FOSSI enables the chemical industry to come together to build a pipeline of diverse scientists to change the face of our industry and continue our ability to find solutions to the world’s challenges. FOSSI is just the first step in ACC’s journey towards a more diverse and equitable workforce. Over the next year, ACC will also be rolling out programs to enable black, brown, female and other minority groups to develop the skills to become leaders in the industry, changing not just the face of our workforce, but the face of our Board rooms and leadership groups.

As ACC’s new Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs, I’m proud to continue to be a part of the innovative work of ACC and our members to enhance our industry’s commitments to diversity, sustainability, environmental health, safety and chemicals management - just a few of the many opportunities to engage and innovate through the business of chemistry. Stay tuned as we continue to build momentum and move this important work forward.

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About the Author

As Vice President of the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Division, Kimberly oversees the development of ACC’s policy positions in response to regulatory and legislative proposals. She also leads a staff of experts to identify, analyze and create technical and policy materials to serve as the foundation for ACC’s activities.

Kimberly has more than a decade of experience in the chemical industry, focused on managing science policy issues, scientific research, and product stewardship programs to inform regulatory decision-making. Most recently, she served as Senior Director for ACC’s Chemical Products and Technology Division. In this role, Kimberly supported federal, state and congressional advocacy on specific chemistries and led the development and communication of science policy and research. She also represented industry in chemical policy discussions with various audiences, including testimony to U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate Committees.

Previously, she served as a Scientific Advisor for the oil and natural gas industry where she was responsible for regulatory efforts and research programs focused on environmental, health, and safety.

Kimberly received Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in biology and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Environmental Toxicology from Texas Southern University.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products, technologies and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health, safety and security performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy addressing major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. ACC members and chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development, and are advancing products, processes and technologies to address climate change, enhance air and water quality, and progress toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

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