September 22, 2022
Staff Accomplishment

American Chemical Society Local Section Receives National Diversity Award

Award recognizes participation and leadership of underrepresented minorities in the chemical sciences

Seven people standing in front of blue background

The Richland Section team accepting the award at the ACS Fall Meeting in August. From left: Mariefel Olarte, Anna Cavinato, Deepika Malhotra, Cristina Padilla Cintron, Shirmir Branch, Phillip Koech, and ACS President-Elect Judith C. Giordan.

(Photo: American Chemical Society)

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Richland Section has been recognized by the ACS national organization with the Best Overall Section Minority Affairs award for 2022.

The section’s leadership—predominantly made up of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) scientists—received the award on behalf of the section at the ACS Fall Meeting held August 21-25, 2022, in Chicago.

The award recognizes a local section committee on minority affairs that consistently promotes and encourages the participation and leadership of underrepresented minorities in the chemical sciences. The award is part of ACS’s ChemLuminary award series that applauds local sections, technical divisions, regional meetings, and international chemical sciences chapters for their work in promoting chemistry.

The Richland Section’s Minority Affairs Committee indeed had a very busy year. Energized by several new volunteers from underrepresented minorities, the committee organized several events that reached a diverse audience within the community. Key among the events:

  • They organized the first-ever virtual bilingual outreach event at Isaac Stevens Middle School in Pasco, Washington—whose student body is 92 percent minority. During this activity, 374 seventh-grade students built 3-D models of the COVID-19 virus and made their own hand sanitizer.
  • A second virtual event, Girls in Science, was aimed at sixth- through eighth-grade females—47 students participated from 13 different eastern Oregon schools. The event allowed the students to learn more about the science behind COVID-19. Activities were developed by chemistry faculty and student volunteers at Eastern Oregon University—a frequent partner with the Richland Section—with assembled materials mailed in advance to the students. In this activity, the students built models of the COVID-19 virus with toothpicks, Styrofoam, and DOTS candy; used spray bottles and different mask types to determine how far a sneeze could travel; and made hand sanitizer.
  • The committee helped organize the first-ever virtual Family Game Night for nine families. The event was hosted by Oliva Primera-Pedrozo of PNNL and Hilsamar Felix Rivera of the Universidad de Puerto Rico Bayamón, who played Periodic Table Bingo with the families, allowing them to learn about the elements in a fun setting.
  • The committee also sponsored two virtual Science Café events that celebrated scientists from underrepresented groups. The first, “Understanding Molten Salt Reactor Spectroelectrochemistry,” was presented by Shirmir Branch, the Richland Section’s secretary and a PNNL chemist. In the second, Cristina Padilla Cintron, section chair and a PNNL scientist, gave a special presentation to Eastern Oregon University student members about her journey as a woman scientist and her research on "Sol-gel Synthesis of Lithium Aluminate.”
  • The section’s annual social included a presentation by Lori Ana Valentin, “A Day in the Life of a Forensic Scientist.”
  • The section also organized an Active Bystander workshop, which was led by Ms. Tanya Bowers of PNNL. The training outlined strategies to address harassment, discrimination, and other unwelcome behaviors of all types.

The section estimates that through these activities, more than 1,000 people were reached across Washington and Oregon, where some geographical areas under the section’s purview have large Hispanic and Native American populations. Additionally, they believe that more than half of those who participated were from underrepresented groups.

The Richland Section was also a finalist for ACS’s Most Innovative New Activity or Program award.

Other members of the Richland Section executive committee include PNNL’s Deepika Malhotra, chair-elect and program chair; Katherine Koh, treasurer; Mariefel Olarte, past chair, awards chair, and nominations chair; and Dave Heldebrant, alternate councilor. Anna Cavinato from Eastern Oregon University is councilor and diversity chair.

“On behalf of the Richland Executive Committee, we are very grateful for the recognition and support from the national ACS,” said local section chair Padilla Cintron. “Our section is composed of professionals and leaders who are committed to our mission to advance the broader chemistry enterprise by providing resources, programs, and outreach for the benefit of our communities. Thanks, all of you.”