LSU NOBCChE: A Story Connecting Community and Science
February 24, 2023
BATON ROUGE - For almost 30 years, the LSU Chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, or NOBCChE, has provided service and professional development to those interested in any STEM field at LSU and the surrounding area, building a cadre of successful, diverse global leaders.
The Chapter's story begins in 1994 with a group of incoming African American graduate students with a passion for chemistry and community support. That fall semester, LSU welcomed a historical number of African American graduate students to the chemistry department.
“When I showed up to LSU, I was surprised because I had no indication that I would be surrounded by other African American graduate students from such a broad range of universities and institutions,” said Judson Haynes, Ph.D. 1999. “We kind of bonded together.”
“LSU NOBCChE has afforded me the incredible opportunity to connect and build relationships with individuals within the LSU Chemistry Department.”
Macallister Davis, Chemistry Senior
Haynes, a founding member of the LSU NOBCChE Chapter, second chapter president, and now a director at Procter & Gamble, recalls finding social comfort and shared purpose amongst the new cohort of graduate students.
“We shared a service-mind mentality, so we not only wanted to be involved with the LSU chemistry department and the LSU community, but we wanted some kind of engagement with the local Baton Rouge community,” said Haynes. “It was Thanksgiving and we decided to do a turkey give away. We put up posters, collected monies, and donated turkeys to Baton Rouge families.”
Unfortunately, their community efforts were ill received when the Dean of the Basic Sciences uncovered their role in the event. Despite advocating their intentions, the group was reprimanded for running a non-sanctioned organization. That is, until the faculty took interest.
“The faculty came to our aid by supporting our efforts even though we weren't sanctioned by the University,” said Haynes. “Dr. Warner intervened on our behalf and informed us that we should think about organizing and completing the paperwork to become a recognized and sanctioned organization on campus.”
Crystal Harrell, Ph.D. 1999, first LSU chapter president, recalled the organization she participated in during her undergraduate studies at Howard University and proposed they start a student chapter at LSU. It was called NOBCChE, or the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.
The students attended the 1995 NOBCChE National Conference in Los Angeles, CA, where they were recognized as an official chapter. Haynes became the second chapter president the following year, and a new slate of officers came abroad. In addition, Emeritus Boyd Professor Isiah Warner became the first faculty advisor for the LSU NOBCChE Chapter, helping facilitate their ongoing activities in accordance with university regulations.
“As a student, I interact with various chemistry divisions in the chapter and it has given me the opportunity to see chemistry from various spectrums.”
Lucinda Boyd, Chemistry Graduate Student
With their newfound status on campus, the group expanded their community engagement and support efforts to include chemistry demonstrations in the local area shopping mall, tutoring, and participation in local charity events.
“We don’t see a lot of African American scientist in chemistry,” said Haynes. “So, we also wanted to be an inspiration to potential students who might view chemistry or science as a career opportunity.”
By 1999, LSU NOBCChE had become an organization with robust educational programming and community involvement, hosting seminar speakers and funding scholarships. The chapter continues its tradition of building community relationships and promoting chemistry education through civic engagement.
“Outreach is in the fabric of the NOBCChE community,” said Tyrslai Williams-Carter, Ph.D. 2017, Assistant Dean of Mentorship, Education, & Research for Strategic Initiatives of the LSU Graduate School, NOBCChE chapter advisor, Southwest regional chair, and collaborative liaison. “Being able to provide goggles and aprons to students in chemistry classrooms, performing demonstrations that excite students about chemistry and how it fits into our everyday lives, or even creating garden beds that teach students the importance of nurturing themselves all contribute not only to the community but to the graduate students who often need reminders of why they are pursuing a higher degree in STEM.”
The chapter has shaped the lives and professional development of countless underrepresented students in science, beyond chemistry. In fact, the past and current chapter members include undergraduate and graduate students from biological sciences, food science, kinesiology, social work, education, and business.
“At NOBCChE meetings, you would see more than just African American students in chemistry and chemical engineering. There were students from every STEM discipline and background,” said Emeritus Boyd Professor Isiah Warner. “I think that’s a huge quality about the organization. They open doors for anyone to join.”
“The LSU Chapter of NOBCChE is a place of acceptance. When I first arrived to LSU, everyone from the chapter made sure I was not alone and looked out for me.”
José Garfias, Chemistry Graduate Student
LSU NOBCChE is more than just a student organization; it is a family that builds and shapes the next generation of scientists. The chapter fosters a welcoming and inclusive space for students while providing academic and professional development for an enriched college experience.
“LSU was great. The professors were great. The department was great. But with NOBCChE added, it really made my experience at LSU phenomenal,” said Haynes.
Throughout its tenure, many LSU Chapter presidents and members went on to hold prominent roles in the national organization. Haynes and Emmanuel Waddell, Ph.D. 2000, were elected as National Presidents of NOBCChE in 2013 and 2017, and several others served on the National Board.
This fall, NOBCChE will be celebrating its 50th Annual Meeting September 11–15, 2023, in New Orleans, the same location as the first national meeting.
“I am very excited about the upcoming 50th NOBCChE conference and celebration. This event plans to honor the scientific accomplishments of NOBCChE by celebrating Black excellence in chemistry and chemical engineering over the last 50 years,” said Williams-Carter. “This is going to be a conference to remember.”
To learn more about the history of the national organization, visit C&EN’s article highlighting its origin and founding members.
LSU NOBCChE Photo Gallery
Have old pictures you would like to share? Email Samuel Owoso, 2022-2023 LSU NOBCChE Historian.