Cheng-photo (2)

H.N. Cheng

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Candidate for ACS President-Elect, 2019

Q&A

1. Why are you running for President-Elect ?

We live in a time of rapid changes. In both my employment and ACS involvement, I have a good track record of creative thinking and getting things done. I’m eager to work with ACS members, teachers, and students to catalyze changes needed to grow the ACS and benefit the chemistry enterprise.

2. What are the top changes/improvements that you believe would improve ACS? How would you tackle these during your Presidential succession?

a) We need to fire up the enthusiasm of our members. There is a saying that “if you want to build a ship, don’t just assign tasks for people to do, but rather teach them to love the beauty and immensity of the sea.” If we (scientists, engineers, teachers, and students) are passionate about chemistry, we will enjoy our work more and also more willing to help as volunteers for the chemistry enterprise.
b) We need to improve the job situation for chemists, especially helping new graduates with employment. To enhance funding for jobs, we need to advocate for increased government and public support of R&D. We also need to work with industry to formulate legislation favorable to industrial growth and R&D funding. We need to inform our members of the different job options available (e.g., my answer to Question #9).
c) I would like to help the growth of the ACS community in three ways: i) sustainability, which can address the increasing problems of pollution, plastic waste, and depletion of natural resources; ii) global connections, e.g., the collaborations with our global partners to benefit the global chemistry enterprise; iii) workforce diversity; we need to make ACS attractive and embrace the changing demographics in the U.S.
d) Promote excellence in research and teaching. We need to recognize the efforts of our teachers, professors, and students as they seek to achieve excellence in their work.
e) We must redouble our efforts in gathering stronger public support for science. More information is given under Question #7.

3. How long have you served in ACS leadership and in what capacity(ies)?

I have been involved with ACS governance since the 1990’s. My involvements are shown below:
a) National ACS:
Councilor, POLY-Division (2004–2012); Delaware-Section (2000–2004),
Member/Chair, International Activities Committee (IAC) (2013-2015),
Member/Committee Chair, Board of Trustees, ACS Group Insurance (2008–2016);
Co-Chair, Presidential Task-Force on “Vision 2025: Helping ACS Members Thrive in the Global Chemistry Enterprise” (2012-2013);
Chair, Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs (CEPA), 2006. Subcommittee Chair (2003-2005); Member (2001-2006);
Chair, CEPA Task-Force on Globalization Issues (2004- 2005);
Associate Chair, ACS Board-Presidential Task-Force on Multidisciplinarity (2004-2005);
Member, Committee-on-Committees (ConC) (2007-2009, 2011-2012);
Working Group Chair, Subcommittee on Award Equity, ACS Grants and Awards Committee (2013);
Member (and Subcommittee Chair), Leadership Advisory Board (2009-2011);
Member/Associate, Committee on Public Relations and Communication (2018-2019); Committee on Nomenclature, Terminology, and Symbols (2016- 2017); various ACS award committees (1998-2019); EDMC-Editor Search Task-Force (2011-2012); Society Committee on Education (2010); ConC Senior Chemists Task-Force, (2010-2012).

b) Local Sections (Delaware and Louisiana):
Chair, Delaware Section (1997); Chair, Long-Range-Planning Committee, (2001-2009); Chair, Carothers-Award Committee (1996-1997), member (1995-2002); Co-Chair, Nominations Committee, (1997-1999), member (1997–2002); Member, Newsletter Advisory Committee (1999-2000).
Chair, Louisiana Section (2013); Newsletter Editor (2012-now); Alternate Councilor, (2018-now); Member-at-Large (2014-2015).

c) Technical Division (POLY):
Chair/Co-Chair, Workshop Committee (2011–now), Councilor (2004-2012), Alternate Councilor (2013); Chair, By-Laws Committee (2008-2010); Member-at-Large (2002–2003); Membership Committee, Chair (2000–2001), Member (1999–2011); Program Committee, member (1994-now); Industrial Sponsors Committee, member (1997-2005).

d) Others: Facilitator for ACS Leadership Development courses (2009-now); organized 35 symposia at National ACS meetings since 2000. Edited 19 ACS symposium books, plus 2 non-ACS books.

4. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment within ACS?

If I can only choose one, I’d regard global connectivity as my greatest accomplishment. First, I have collaborated with many international scientists and benefited from these collaborations. In 2000-2006 when I served on ACS Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs (CEPA), we realized that globalization is affecting the chemistry enterprise. As Chair of CEPA Task Force on Globalization Issues (2004-2005) and Chair of CEPA (2006), I worked with my colleagues to make recommendations concerning globalization from both ACS and individual member’s viewpoints. In 2013-2015, I served as Chair of ACS International Activities Committee. My colleagues and I expanded the ACS global activities considerably, including the expansion of international chapters, global collaborations, and various outreach and inter-societal activities.

Outside of ACS?
I would say my major accomplishment outside ACS is Sustainability. Starting in the 1990’s, I started systematic R&D studies on sustainability and green chemistry, including four thrusts: 1) use natural renewable raw materials (e.g., polysaccharides, proteins, and triglycerides) as source materials for new chemistry and products; 2) use biocatalysts (e.g., enzymes and micro-organisms) for reactions; 3) apply green chemistry concepts to processing; and 4) develop green methodologies to promote the development of green products. My collaborators and I developed many new or improved products (and processes) from biopolymers and agro-based materials. About 160 papers and 21 patent publications resulted from this work. Since 2000, Rich Gross (RPI) and I organize large symposia every three years at ACS national meetings on “Green Polymer Chemistry.”

5. What is the Society’s greatest need/challenge and, if elected how would you address it?

For several years ACS has been slowly losing membership. The greatest need for ACS is member recruitment and retention. In my view, ACS President can help in three ways. First, the ACS President needs to cultivate a general sense of excitement and togetherness about chemistry. It is fun to do chemistry experiments. Our work can lead to positive changes in the society, such as medicine, agriculture, energy, and water. Thus, it is important for scientists to belong to ACS and together make an impact on the profession. The second part is to communicate the benefits of ACS membership. The ACS President can use the communication channels open to him to promote membership benefits to all chemists and chemistry students. Thirdly, we need to partner with local sections and technical divisions to launch special campaigns to recruit members. Continue to use ACS meetings as a way to attract members. Continue to attract members among the people who submit manuscripts to ACS journals. Of course, given the opportunity, I will work with MAC and ACS membership staff to carry out these activities.

6. Given that younger chemists Committee is a voice for ACS members under the age of 35 and our constituency makes up over 20% of ACS members, how do you plan to collaborate with the Younger Chemists Committee or younger chemists in general to achieve your goals as ACS President?

Certainly younger chemists are a most important part of our constituency and are in fact the future of the chemistry enterprise. Over the years I have worked with many younger chemists, and I welcome the opportunity to work with YCC, if I get elected. At that time, obviously we need to have serious discussions on collaborations and joint activities. Even now, I can see several possible areas of fruitful collaborations.
a) I admire the energy and enthusiasm of younger chemists. I would love to work with YCC to fire up the enthusiasm of chemists and chemical engineers for chemistry.
b) One of my interests is to promote global collaboration and connectivity. I know many younger chemists have already made great contributions to this effort (e.g., IYCN and YCCB). Working together, we may be able to do even more.
c) In our efforts to increase workforce diversity, we need to minimize the number of students who drop out of chemistry programs. Perhaps we can discuss and find ways to help.
d) Some local sections (and technical divisions) have strong younger chemists’ programs and some don’t. It would be useful if we collaborate to encourage greater participation of younger chemists in sections and divisions.
e) Younger chemists can play a fruitful role in outreach because many of our target audiences are young. They can also contribute towards advocacy (please see my answer to Question #8)

7. What do you think the Society can do to improve the public perception of science?

One of the courses that I am qualified to teach at the ACS Leadership Conference is Communication Strategies. There is a NSF survey quoted in the course that showed that most Americans consistently and by large margins endorse the past achievements and future promise of S&T. Thus, the public perception of science is not bad. Of course, we need to continue our efforts, particularly in three areas:
a) Science literacy is a problem. Many people do not give correct answers to basic factual questions about science. Many people have misconceptions about science, and they are not familiar with emerging technologies. To improve public perception, we need to educate the public on scientific matters first. For example, the ACS Expert system is excellent and help to answer many questions the public has about chemistry.
b) We need to continue our efforts to emphasize the benefits of chemistry to the public. A particular segment that is useful is the news media. We need to cultivate a partnership with them so that they report more about the advances and the benefits of chemistry.
c) Finally, we need to continue to emphasize the importance of research and development to the country. We need strong public support for research funding.

8. How can younger chemists best advocate for science funding and commercial investments in R&D?

This question can be broken to two parts: a) science funding by government agencies, and b) R&D funding by industry of its own internal commercial development or contract work with academia. For advocacy with respect to government, it will be useful for younger chemists to participate in ACS Legislative Action Network. Also consider participating in visits to legislators. Since younger people are more savvy with social media, they can help with advocacy through social media to reduce the cost of traditional advocacy, and to more precisely target public officials with specific messages.

As for advocacy towards industry, the key is to show the financial benefit of R&D investment to management. A younger chemist who currently works for a company has the potential opportunity of accessibility to discuss with his/her management about R&D investment. It is more difficult if you do not work for industry. There are at least four ACS governance entities relating to industry: Corporation Associates (CA), Division of Business Development and Management (BMGT), Division of Small Chemical Business (SChB), and Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Division (I&EC). It may be useful to talk to members of these four groups and ask how you can help with advocacy.

9. Please share your ideas to improve career development for chemists pursuing careers outside of academia, and even outside of the lab.

I think the key to answering your question is to know where the career opportunities are. In this way, a potential job-seeker knows where to look and/or how to reorient his/her training or job search. Back in 2013 Marinda Wu, Sadiq Shah and I organized three symposia at ACS national meeting in Indianapolis on 1) Career Advancement Opportunities, 2) Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and 3) Impact of Diversity and Inclusion. Subsequently we edited an ACS book on “Careers, Entrepreneurship, and Diversity” (ACS Symposium Series 1169, published in 2014), consisting of written versions of many talks given in the three symposia. Several articles in that book address this question fairly well. Of course, academia is still an excellent career option, and 36% of ACS members work in that sector. The largest employment sector is actually industrial, accounting for about 50% of ACS members. Having worked in industry for many years, I know that “industry” does not provide one type of jobs. There are lab jobs for sure, but there are also plenty of jobs outside the lab, including management, sales, marketing, patents, licensing, information, computation, design and analysis, health/safety/regulatory affairs, and others. The third largest sector is government, accounting for about 7% of ACS membership. This sector comprises a huge range of jobs, from lab research to program management, policy analysis, regulatory compliance, foreign affairs, human resources, and staff support. There are also many non-traditional careers, e.g., forensic science, health/environment/safety, technology transfer, patents, venture capital, non-profit organizations, science policy and science diplomacy, funding agencies, and science journalism. The important things to keep in mind are flexibility, adaptability, and life-long learning.

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H.N. Cheng