FOSSI Is Born To Maximize Inclusion for HBCU Students

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( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) The Chemical Industry Announced First Stem Scholars Initiative: An Investment of $7.2m for Students at HBCUs

ENSPIRE Contributors: Brenda Robinson & Anastasia Hanna

The chemical industry has launched the “Future of STEM Scholars Initiative (FOSSI),” a diversity and inclusion initiative for manufacturers, supply chain partners, and other stakeholders to finance scholarships, produce internships, and encourage mentoring and leadership training for students in attendance at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This scholarship will be open to approximately 150 STEM scholars with a cumulative investment of $7.2 million.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), The Chemours Company, and HBCU Week Foundation are the program’s founding partners.

FOSSI is a key component of AIChE’s Doing a World of Good campaign and its All for Good: Engineering for Inclusion Initiative, an extensive, multiannual, industrial joint effort to exchange best practices and fund programming to maximize inclusion in the engineering profession. ACC and The Chemours Company are driving industry commitments to help FOSSI achieve its ambitious first-year target. Chemours has already pledged a multi-year investment of $5 million as a primary sponsor. The HBCU Week Foundation will act as the initiative’s scholarship coordinator, driving interaction with educational institutions and students alike.

Ashley Christopher, Founder and CEO of the HBCU Week Foundation, added, “I am proud of this partnership between the HBCU Week Foundation, AIChE, the American Chemistry Council, and Chemours. It is through partnerships like these, that Black and Brown children nationwide can actualize their full potential at HBCUs while minimizing the burden of student debt.”

Ashely Christopher, CEO and founder of the HBCU Week Foundation

ENSPIRE Magazine interviewed the CEO of HBCU Week Foundation and a rep from the American Chemistry Council to discuss the drive behind the birth of FOSSI, the process of establishing a collaborative effort, the organizations students can hope to intern with, advice for future applicants, and much more!

What was the inspiration behind the creation of FOSSI?

The American Chemistry Council:

ACC and our members are committed to enhancing diversity in our facilities, our boardrooms, and the communities in which we operate. We recognize that the challenges faced by underrepresented communities in today’s world are critical to address. We also recognize the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion programs to help build a cohesive and united workforce which also enhances economic growth.

ACC along with the program’s founding partners, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), The Chemours Company, and the HBCU Week Foundation launched FOSSI as the chemical industry’s groundbreaking collaborative effort aimed at creating pathways for more underrepresented groups to enter and succeed in the chemical industry.

HBCU:

Originally, HBCU Week Foundation had a partnership with the Chemours Company.  Together we offered the Future of Chemistry Scholarship. The president and CEO of Chemours, Mark Vergnano, was also the chairman of the American Chemistry Council (ACC). When he shared our partnership details with his colleagues, they were excited to join in the opportunity. That’s how this scholarship went from a $3 million dollar commitment to students in the State of Delaware who commit to attending HBCUs and studying STEM to $40k scholarships offered to 150 students nationwide. 

What was the process of getting the partnerships with the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), Chemours, and HBCU Week Foundation like?

The American Chemistry Council:

As the FOSSI program was being created, we identified organizations that were committed to enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within our industry and beyond, who could engage and encourage interactions between students and the industry and support the development and training of students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. All four of our founding partners bring unique and valuable insight into the FOSSI program.

HBCU:

This process was led by Mark Vergnano of the Chemours Company. He recognized the importance of diversifying the STEM field early on and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. Through his advocacy, FOSSI was born.

What organizations are allowing students to intern with them through FOSSI? 

The American Chemistry Council:

All of our FOSSI sponsors have an opportunity to provide internships to students. At this time, we have nearly 30 FOSSI sponsors who have committed over $10 million dollars to fund 215 scholars over the next five years. Our current FOSSI sponsors are:

  • Chemours (Founding Partner)
  • AdvanSix
  • Afton Chemical Corporation
  • Arkema Inc.
  • Ascend Performance Materials, LLC
  • BASF Corporation
  • Bayer Corporation
  • Cabot Corporation
  • Celanese
  • Chevron
  • Corteva Agriscience
  • Covestro LLC
  • Dow
  • DuPont
  • Eastman Chemical Company
  • Evonik Corporation
  • ExxonMobil Chemical Company
  • Hexion Inc.
  • Ingevity Corporation
  • Kraton Corporation
  • LANXESS Corporation
  • The Lubrizol Corporation
  • LyondellBasell
  • NOVA Chemicals Corporation
  • SABIC
  • Stepan Company
  • Synthomer
  • Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc.
  • Trinseo

Do you think FOSSI will expand more scholarship opportunities to more students?

The American Chemistry Council:

2021 is the inaugural year of FOSSI, and we will explore additional opportunities to increase the student pipeline in future years. Our partners and sponsors are committed to building and growing the program to meaningfully impact students across the nation and bring talented students into the workforce, benefiting local communities and economies.

HBCU:

I would love for FOSSI to expand this opportunity to more students. Simply put, Black students want to go to HBCUs and the significant dent in the cost of their education that this opportunity offers is one they deserve. To date, we have received well over 1,200 qualified applications, with several hundred of those students having a 4.0 or better. 

Do you think that this scholarship opportunity will eventually be available for African American or minority students at non-HBCUs?

The American Chemistry Council:

As the program evolves, we will continue to explore and identify additional opportunities for students to be engaged in the FOSSI program.

HBCU:

Speaking for HBCU Week Foundation, our mission is very clear. We have a laser focus on Black students who want to attend HBCUs. We will not deviate from that mission.

In what ways, other than internship opportunities, will scholars have the opportunities to expand their STEM knowledge? 

The American Chemistry Council:

In addition to internship opportunities, FOSSI scholars will also have opportunities for mentorships, skills development, and leadership training that will help to expand their knowledge of STEM and the chemical industry.

What is your advice for future applicants? 

The American Chemistry Council:

FOSSI aims to build a more diverse and talented future workforce within the chemical industry that will be ready to bring the perspective and intellect needed to innovate and tackle the big challenges that lie ahead for our world. We encourage you to be part of this change and apply.

HBCU:

Put your best foot forward on these applications. We evaluate our applicants using a qualitative and quantitative approach in an effort to assess the whole candidate. We want to get to know you. Not just your GPA and test scores.  

What is your advice for an African American student wanting to pursue a STEM degree?

The American Chemistry Council:

The contributions of chemists, toxicologists, engineers, and mathematicians have improved lives and driven innovations around the globe. Additionally, the average wage for all STEM occupations in the U.S. is nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A STEM degree can help put you on a path toward amazing discoveries.

Dr. Kimberly Wise White, Vice President of the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Regulatory and Technical Affairs Division

HBCU:

Sometimes “STEM” can sound intimidating. And although a lot of STEM-related majors can be challenging, it’s important to take a closer look at how diverse the field is. You may be surprised to find that your interests actually do align with STEM.  

To get involved or stay informed on FOSSI’s progress, visit the website here and at the ACC’s website here. For social media updates, visit Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Students are encouraged to apply for next’s year’s future opportunities.

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