American Chemical Society lauds 'coach' of women scientists

03/07/05

UO chemist will use $10,000 prize to expand mentorship programs to Latin America



Geraldine (Geri) Richmond, a University of Oregon chemistry professor, is the 2005 winner of the American Chemical Society's Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. She is founder and chair of COACh the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists.
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EUGENE, Ore.--If women scientists at colleges and universities had a head coach, she most likely would be University of Oregon chemist Geri Richmond.

On March 15, Richmond will receive high honors--and serious prize money--for significantly improving the status of women in her field. She will be given the American Chemical Society's Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences for 2005, sponsored by The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, during the society's annual meeting in San Diego.

The award recognizes Richmond for her life-changing work as the founder and chair of COACh (the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists), a national organization she started in 1998 with a group of senior women chemistry faculty members like herself who are determined to address the documented disparity in hiring and promotion of women in academic chemistry departments.

Her selection is being hailed by her peers around the country.

"Geri has worked tirelessly on behalf of women scientists and provided me with a wonderful friendship that has helped me through difficult times in my career," says Harvard chemistry professor Cynthia Friend, a member of the COACh advisory board. "This is a difficult time for women scientists, and the support of Geri and our colleagues in the chemistry community is critical."

Richmond's influence stems from her standing as one of the world's leading research chemists.

"In just six years, Geri has helped reframe the conversation about how women scientists can reach the highest levels in academia," says UO President Dave Frohnmayer.

"Geri's exceptional leadership ability is quite literally transforming many women's careers," Frohnmayer says. "What is unique about Geri is that she is as well known for her scientific achievements as she is for promoting diversity in the scientific workforce. We are proud she has made the University of Oregon the home base for COACh, and we anticipate great success as she expands its reach abroad."

Richmond plans to use the $10,000 grant accompanying the award to bring COACh programs to Europe and Latin America, and to implement new programs aimed at institutional climate issues. In addition to the grant, the award includes a $5,000 cash prize plus travel expenses to the ACS meeting.

COACh is making progress despite daunting demographics, Richmond says. Projections anticipate an overall decline in interest in science, engineering and technology careers after 2010, especially among women and underrepresented minorities. The U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy also predicts the number of 22-year-olds receiving bachelor's degrees in science and technology will drop markedly, to less than 11 percent of the total by 2050.

Improving this outlook isn't a question of whether women are innately interested in science, Richmond contends.

"With fully a third of doctorates in chemistry being earned by women, it's clear they have the interest," she says. "The key question should be, what is happening after they earn those degrees to prevent their advancement?"

Part of the solution lies in research that shows that if women scientists want to be leaders, they must become aware of differences in the ways men and women communicate and develop skills to confront--and change--gender-based behaviors and policies that work against their career aspirations.

Under Richmond's leadership, COACh has developed a number of workshops in negotiation, management and leadership skills tailored help women achieve their professional goals. COACh also has created leadership forums to assist organizations in their quest to enable all those interested in science careers to become full participants in the scientific enterprise.

"What I'm most proud of," Richmond says, "is that 95 percent of the women chemists who have participated in the COACh workshops report they have gone on to mentor other women in their departments. It's an avalanche effect."

What's more, 82 percent have used their skills to negotiate for themselves, and 65 percent have used these skills to negotiate for others. Ninety percent say they are experiencing less stress in their workplaces.

The programs developed by COACh for women chemists are so successful that they're being adopted by other disciplines. So far, more than 700 women science faculty members in chemistry, geology, mathematics, computer science and physics have participated. Next year, COACh will adapt its workshops for the annual meetings of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, http://www.nobcche.org/ and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, http://www.sacnas.org/.

Richmond is the UO's Richard M. and Patricia H. Noyes Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. At 52, she is among the nation's most productive university researchers with more than 130 published articles in leading journals to date. In December, her work was listed among the top 10 discoveries of 2004 by Science magazine.

Her research on surfaces and interfaces, funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, is related to biological processes, semiconductor processing and environmental clean-up efforts.

The ACS award adds to a lengthy roster of major honors received by Richmond during her 20 years at the University of Oregon. In 1997, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Engineering Mentoring. Among her most notable awards for scientific research are the American Chemistry Society's Francis P. Garvan Medal (1996), the Oregon Outstanding Scientist Award (2001), the Spectrochemical Analysis Award of the ACS (2002) and the Spiers Medal, given by Great Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry for outstanding contributions in physical chemistry (2004).

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