In the midst of the pandemic in 2020, a small group of chemistry graduate students, led by Lloyd Fisher (Goodson Lab), decided to revamp the University of Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). Originally founded in the 1990s, the chapter went through a revival stage to provide more professional development opportunities for Black chemistry and chemical engineering students at Michigan. They’ve held events and workshops about designing a research poster, developing LinkedIn profiles, and giving good presentations.

In April of 2022, Fisher decided he was ready to step down as president, opening an opportunity for a younger graduate student to take the chapter to new heights. In addition, the chapter decided to make a bigger commitment to increasing engagement through social events after meeting with the president of the national NOBCChE organization, Dr. Rena Robinson, on Juneteenth. As a result, newly elected president Ayza Croskey has hit the ground running with a jam-packed semester focused on growth and expansion for NOBCChE.

Croskey, who recently began her 3rd year as a PhD candidate in the Mapp lab, has made it a priority to develop a good balance between the professional aspect of NOBCChE and the growing social aspect. This commitment, along with the return to in-person events, has marked significant change and growth  for the NOBCChE chapter. The chapter is welcoming this change with open arms—this semester they’ve  has already held a trip to an apple orchard and conducted their general body meeting.

On November 17th at 2pm (via Zoom), they are holding a career panel for the chapter. Croskey is excited for its potential to highlight a diverse array of career paths. “My goal is to make sure that we have academic and industry representation, but also highlight the people who have gotten chemistry or chemical engineering PhDs who now have more nontraditional careers.”

Croskey recognizes that it’s been a pretty hectic start, but she attributes NOBCChE’s success to board members Meghan Orr (Goodson lab), Samuel Ogunwale (Larson lab), Seun Akanbi (Eniola-Adefeso lab), Faridat Agboola (Matzger lab), and Maribel Okiye (Sherman lab and Tripathi lab). “Coordinating all of this is a lot of moving pieces, but as a board we work really well as a team.”

Croskey was also tasked early on with leading Michigan’s NOBCChE chapter to their first in-person national conference since the chapter was reinstated. In May, the Chemistry Department agrred to fund two students from each program (chemistry, chemical engineering, and chemical biology). The executive board selected three attendees from the executive board (Croskey, Okiye, and Akanbi) and three general members: Desnor Chigumba (Kersten lab), Phoenix Williams (Mapp lab,) and Misché Hubbard (Kotov lab and VanEpps lab), with the only requirements being that attendees would help with department recruiting and would present their research at the conference. At the end of September, the group headed to Orlando, Florida for their first national conference.

Just two days into the conference, Florida was hit by Hurricane Ian, a devastating Category 4 storm. Although the hurricane didn’t hit the conference badly, the heavy rain kept the conference goers bound to the hotel unable to explore much of Orlando. Croskey, who had never experienced a hurricane before, said it wasn’t all bad, “it kind of forced us all to be together—during the evenings there was a lot of playing cards in someone’s hotel room instead of going out.”

Despite the hurricane, the Michigan crew were able to get a lot out of the jam packed conference. “They had a great diversity of the sessions, including an entrepreneurship session,” Croskey said, which really connected to her because of an interest in a career in science consulting. Other highlights included a session on imposter syndrome, one-on-one resume support, and scientific poster sessions. “I think it was a great mixture of amazing professional events as well as being a good time to just socialize and network.”

This networking aspect of the conference proved especially exciting for the University of Michigan NOBCChE chapter as they were able to discuss future collaborations with other Michigan NOBCChE chapters. “We actually met the Dow chapter from Midland at the conference and we ended up having a sit-down with the Wayne State chapter to discuss the possibility of coordinating a Michigan NOBCChE symposium,” Croskey added.

Croskey has already accomplished so much during their first few months as president and she’s just getting started, “what I really want to see in my time as president is expansion of the chapter—just reaching more people. I want to see us grow—that’s been my one mission since I became president.”

Learn more

If you’d like to get involved or learn more about the University of Michigan chapter of NOBCChE you can check out their twitter and maize page website.