MKC Headshot 2 17 20

Mary K. Carroll

Union College, Dwane W. Crichton Professor of Chemistry

Candidate for ACS President-Elect, 2021

Q&A

Why are you running for President-Elect?

Because I have the skills needed to work constructively, respectfully, collaboratively and creatively with other members to effect positive change and advance ACS for its members and society. I have benefitted tremendously from ACS initiatives and opportunities and I firmly believe in ‘paying it forward.

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

I think the key is to focus on two things:

First:  What is ACS uniquely positioned to do?

That is, where can our collective expertise and efforts have the most significant impact?  We need to focus our efforts there.

and

Second:  How best can ACS engage the talents of all its members to do those things?

In my experience, the most effective ACS Presidents have worked within the governance structure to effect change, acting in collaboration with and amplifying the work of committees, local sections and divisions.  If elected, I would make it a priority to coordinate efforts within and between these ACS units, and seek greater involvement of the International Chemical Sciences Chapters and Student Chapters.

And although ACS has made important progress in ensuring that our community of chemical professionals welcomes and treats all its members with respect, including those from groups historically underrepresented in the sciences and our LGBTQ+ colleagues, there is work left to be done in this area.

I have a considerable track record of leading positive, collaborative teams that get things done.  If elected to the Presidential succession, I will support efforts to better represent and involve all members in impactful activities for the benefit of ACS and society.

How and when did you get started in ACS?

I first became involved at the local section level.  I’ve served on the Eastern New York (ENY) Education Committee since 1993, the ENY Executive Committee since 1995 (first as an Alternate Councilor, subsequently as a Councilor), and the ENY Steering Committee for three NERM meetings (1997, 2003, 2019).  I’ve represented ENY on the ACS Council since 1998, but wasn’t assigned to a national committee until 2001.  Since then, I’ve served and, in many cases, taken leadership roles on a number of national committees, boards, task forces (as detailed below).

  • Committee on Science (COMSCI), committee associate 2019–20
  • Leadership Advisory Board (LAB), 2018–19, committee associate, 2014–17
  • Board/Council Policy Committee Task Force on Governance Design, co-chair, 2016–19
  • Committee on Planning, 2017
  • Council Policy Committee (CPC), (voting) 2013–18, vice-chair, 2017-18, 2010–12 (non-voting)
  • Committee on Education (SOCED), 2005–12, chair, 2010–12, committee associate, 2001–04
  • ACS Strategic Plan Education Goal Working Group, 2011, chair, 2011
  • Program Review Advisory Group (PRAG), 2010–11
  • Advisory Board, Graduate Education (GEAB), 2010–12
  • Women Chemists Committee (WCC), 2004, committee associate, 2001–03

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment within ACS?

There are two, and both resulted from group efforts; I can’t claim them as individual accomplishments:

In 2011, while I was chair of SOCED, I led a team of key ACS education committee stakeholders in a short-term, high-impact effort to consider concepts that might be used in the Society’s strategic plan for 2012 and beyond. We focused on outcomes ACS should pursue among areas where chemistry and education intersect. This working group urged adoption of an explicitly education-focused Goal in the ACS Strategic Plan, along with specific outcomes for K-12 and higher education, and emphasized that ACS is uniquely positioned, and therefore obligated, to lead in promoting excellence in chemical education. The Board of Directors subsequently adopted a Strategic Plan in which education features prominently as Goal 3 (currently, ‘Support Excellence in Education’).

In 2016-18, I co-chaired the Board-Council Policy Committee (CPC) Task Force on Governance Design, which was composed of ACS volunteer leaders – including the chair of the Younger Chemists Committee – and charged with positioning the ACS for the future by reviewing and recommending actions to improve the national governance structure. The task force recommended to the Board and CPC a path forward that engaged the appropriate governance units. The first major outcome of the task force’s work was the streamlining of the ACS Constitution & Bylaws, approved by Council and the Board, with constitutional changes subsequently approved by the full ACS membership in 2019. These were the most significant changes to the ACS Governing Documents since 1948.

Outside of ACS?

Professionally: Establishing and co-directing the Union College Aerogel Lab, a highly productive, cross-disciplinary group, with Prof. Ann Anderson from Union’s Mechanical Engineering Department.  Working with colleagues and students, we invented and patented a novel method for fabricating these materials.  Since 2001, more than 150 undergraduate STEM majors, several high-school students and faculty colleagues from Union and other institutions have participated in our group’s aerogel research, which has been supported by the ACS Petroleum Research Fund and a number of grants from the National Science Foundation.

On a personal note, my husband and I couldn’t be prouder of anything than we are of our two daughters, who are accomplished, dedicated, principled and kind women determined to make a positive difference in the world.

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

ACS and its members must contribute to addressing the major societal (small “s”) challenges of our time, which include the effects of the global pandemic, systemic racism and climate change.  For our Society to have the most influence and impact, ACS needs to nurture and maintain an engaged membership.

The major challenge faced by professional societies, including the ACS, is member recruitment and retention. In a time of rapid change, ACS must articulate and demonstrate the value of membership to new and continuing members. To remain relevant, ACS must support and engage all its members at all professional stages, as students, throughout their careers and into retirement, wherever their paths take them. ACS has a well-deserved reputation among other professional societies for robust member volunteerism at the local and national levels; however, the established ACS governance structures, which enable and support continuous efforts often require long-term commitments and travel to meetings. These structures underutilize the talents and expertise of some members, including technicians and other industrial professionals, international members, faculty members in high schools and at two-year colleges as well as both early-career and senior chemists. Providing more focused, short-term opportunities for members with a broad diversity of backgrounds and experiences to contribute meaningfully to ACS initiatives would yield substantial benefit to the Society and to society as a whole.  I intend to work with governance units (committees, divisions, etc.) to do this.

Given that the 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 use the Committee, or younger chemists in general, to achieve your goals as ACS President?

We often hear said that younger members are the future of the Society. That is true; however, I argue that they are an integral component of its present. During my time on WCC and SOCED, I served as liaison to the Younger Chemists Committee, so I had a first-hand view of the professionalism, dedication and agility that YCC brings to its activities focused on engaging younger members. In particular, I applaud YCC’s contributions to ACS initiatives focused on diversity, inclusion and respect. In my “day job” I have served as faculty advisor to my college’s ACS Student Chapter for many years and have encouraged student involvement in ACS at the campus, local section and national levels. Over the years, I’ve heard frustration from younger ACS volunteer leaders that others in the ACS sometimes view them more as proteges to be mentored rather than leaders who are ready to apply their talents and expertise in service of the Society.

The current ACS governance structure rewards and celebrates longevity, and our deliberative processes can appear maddeningly slow. Some students and early-career chemical professionals may not be in position to commit to a multi-year appointment that might eventually provide them with a focused opportunity to contribute meaningfully. If I am elected, I will work with YCC to involve younger members in our committee structure but also to structure opportunities for leadership roles on short-term, high-impact initiatives.

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

ACS must continue to take a multi-pronged approach:

  • Leading in evidence-based scientific education.
  • Emphasizing the value to society of ethically conducted pure and applied research (and describing that research in terms that can be understood by members of the public).
  • Encouraging ACS units and individual members to engage in public outreach activities.
  • Enhancing advocacy for policies based on sound science.

ACS has more than 150 thousand members, who collectively can have a substantial impact.  Participating in the ACS Presidential succession will provide a platform from which to increase my own effectiveness in outreach and advocacy.

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

It is critically important counter the perception among some that ACS is an organization by and for PhD chemists in academic positions. All too often we speak of those who are employed outside of an academic/industrial/governmental laboratory setting as pursuing “alternative careers” as if they’ve somehow wandered off the one true path. This lack of respect can lead to members becoming disenfranchised at various career stages.  Instead, we must celebrate and encourage all ACS members’ professional contributions to society.

In my role as a professor at a liberal arts college, I interact with undergraduate students on a daily basis. Most of these students will have careers that differ substantially from mine: they will work in multiple fields for several employers (including, perhaps, themselves) in different locations. Many of their job titles won’t include the word “chemist.”  If they are to continue to see ACS as their professional home, they must feel that their experiences and expertise are valued, and their professional development is supported, by ACS and its other members.

It is critically important for ACS to encourage all its members to be lifelong learners, prepared to build upon their education and gain expertise in areas that might not even exist today, and establish and continually cultivate their professional networks. Although ACS offers an outstanding array of professional and leadership development programs, including short courses and webinars, these reach relatively few ACS members. I’d like to see ACS experiment more with ways of packaging and advertising these as member benefits.

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Mary K. Carroll