ACS & You

ACS Bridge Project: A game changer for the chemical enterprise

by Teri Quinn Gray, ACS District III Director, for C&EN

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Underrepresented minority students make up a third of college-age US citizens and earn roughly 18% of US chemistry bachelor’s degrees and 11% of chemistry PhDs, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Last year, to support underrepresented minority students in the chemical sciences, the American Chemical Society launched the ACS Bridge Project to incorporate into doctoral-granting institutions the mind-sets, behaviors, and sustainable practices that will lead to an increase in the number of chemical science PhDs awarded to underrepresented minority students.

I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity to address education attainment and workforce gaps in the chemical enterprise. It is game changing.

The ACS Bridge Project defies the deficit model of “fixing the student” and embraces an inclusive excellence model centered on creating an environment to unleash a student’s potential. This critical effort to eliminate the participation gap for underrepresented minorities translates to enhancing the graduate education experience for all students, and it strengthens the overall talent pool for the chemical sciences.

The project, co-led by experts from the social and physical sciences, gives rightful attention to both social-emotional and technical factors that contribute to a successful journey from the undergraduate to doctoral degree. The project not only emphasizes building academic and technical skills but also confronts how grad school admission, recruitment, and retention practices affect who does and does not attain graduate degrees in the chemical sciences.

The ACS Bridge Project encourages authentic self-reflection among key decision-making units within institutions and draws on scholarly research to provide resources, mentoring, and coaching for all stakeholders, including students, faculty, and staff. This engenders accountability among universities, strategic partners, and ACS to take prudent risks and differentially invest to meet audacious project goals.

There’s high demand for a scientific workforce across the globe while there’s a substantial pool of untapped talent that is not pursuing or even considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). However, I get anxious when I’m called to yet another program launch with the intent to grow a talent pool ready for careers in STEM. Great program ideas for increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM have often resulted in less-than-expected outcomes.

In contrast, I’m ecstatic about the ACS Bridge Project. It’s a courageous experiment in diversity and inclusion to create large-scale cultural change and thus systemic progress for the chemical sciences as a profession. The program is part of the Inclusive Graduate Education Network (IGEN), a national alliance of scientific societies led by the American Physical Society. IGEN, which is supported by a $10 million grant over 5 years from the National Science Foundation, aims to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in graduate education in the physical sciences.

ACS has banded together with the American Physical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society, and the Materials Research Society to replicate throughout the physical sciences the lessons learned from the successful American Physical Society Bridge Program. Those lessons centered on making diversity and inclusion explicit in the grad admission process and building critical capacity among faculty mentors.

Scale is a major factor in the success of a program such as this, and the ACS Bridge Project offers many ways for students, faculty, and departments to get involved. The first way is for a chemical science department to apply to become an ACS Bridge Site or Partnership Department and host a Bridge Program. A Bridge Program is a 1-to-2-year postbaccalaureate or transitional master’s program in which students can enhance their graduate school applications; these departments have a supportive environment and share the same goals and values as the ACS Bridge Project. Because funding can be a limiting factor, ACS Bridge Sites will receive funds for up to 3 years to support students selected as Bridge Fellows. Bridge Fellows will be able to take advanced coursework, participate in graduate-level research, and benefit from strong mentoring from many individuals.

The ACS Bridge Travel Award, given to selected students who have not been accepted into a graduate program, provides travel support to attend either the ACS spring national meeting or the annual meeting of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). At these meetings, students are guided toward programming aimed at increasing their professional development and readiness to apply to graduate schools.

If you are interested in becoming an ACS Bridge Site or Partnership Department, I encourage you to visit www.acs.org/bridge to learn more. Student applications for the Bridge Program or a Bridge Travel Award will open in early December.

The ACS Bridge Project’s mission is to strengthen the chemistry in the United States by increasing the number of underrepresented minority students who receive doctoral degrees in chemical sciences. 

Headshot of Terri Quinn Gray
Teri Quinn Gray, ACS District III Director
Credit: Courtesy of Teri Quinn Gray