Dr. Andrea Ashley-Oyewole has seen the difference being part of a like-minded community can have for her career and her students. An Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) in Prairie View, Texas, Dr. Ashley-Oyewole helped drive her department’s signing of the Beyond Benign Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC).
The GCC provides a framework to unite the green chemistry higher education community around a common vision to expand the community of green chemists, grow departmental resources, improve connections to job opportunities, and affect systemic and lasting change in chemistry education. With support from Dow, Beyond Benign launched a GCC 25×25 initiative with a goal of ensuring that 25% of graduating U.S. chemists have a background in green chemistry by 2025. PVAMU recently signed onto the GCC, becoming the first HBCU (historically Black college and university) to do so.
Holding degrees in Chemistry and Environmental Toxicology, Dr. Ashley-Oyewole is the co-advisor to the PVAMU Chemistry Club and a Co-Chair for the Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Respect Subcommittee on Beyond Benign’s Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC) Leadership Committee. In this Q&A, Dr. Ashley-Oyewole shares what being a member of the Green Chemistry Commitment community has meant for her professionally, as well as what it has offered her students, her department and the University.
How did you first learn about the Green Chemistry Commitment?
PVAMU Chemistry heard about the GCC through an invitation to attend a meeting with Beyond Benign, Dow and the College of Engineering, which was held on our campus in the spring of 2020.
What was the process of becoming part of the GCC community like for you?
Signing on to the GCC was easy for us. We had permission from our department head to complete the necessary documents and then it was forwarded to the Dean for final signatures. It all happened in a day.
What has being part of the GCC community done for you as a faculty member?
As a scientist from an interdisciplinary background in a department filled with Ph.D. chemists, it has given me a voice and a way to show what I can offer to the academy. It has also allowed me to introduce my students to a subject that is of particular interest to me coming from an environmental science background.
Any specific outcomes you can share?
I’ve always envisioned creating an environmental chemistry course in my department, and the encouragement I’ve received from the GCC community has built my confidence to move forward with the project. I have found my feet and my voice, literally, and I am looking forward to bigger things because of the assistance from my colleagues in the GCC. I have experienced a genuine sense of belonging as a scientist that was not there before.
It’s also helped me connect with new colleagues and students across the globe. I’ve met students in Berlin who are doing great work to advance green chemistry in the University. I have talked with colleagues in Canada and multiple states across the U.S., and I hope to work on research projects in the future.
How has being part of the GCC community impacted your students and their ability to prepare for career competitiveness?
My students have been very receptive to our green chemistry infusion topics, and my first-year courses also received B-Global designation to help students become more active and informed global citizens.
Students are excited to see how chemistry is applied to solving everyday problems, to explore tangible examples of environmental issues and how chemistry can solve these problems. One example is the overproduction of fast fashion and the environmental problem with the disposal of that waste. That was obscure to students but after learning about it, they wanted to commit to recycling and reusing more products. Many were amazed by the carbon footprint of their daily lives and began thinking more about energy efficiency. Others began to understand sea level rise and greenhouse emissions as urgent problems to be solved. The end result is they are talking more about the issues and making connections to their chemistry coursework, as well. This will serve them in their future careers as they learn applications of science solving real global issues.
How has being part of the GCC helped your institution?
Our Department has benefited a great deal. This work has given us avenues to expand in research and supported our efforts toward effective and relevant teaching. Recruitment efforts for new majors and graduate student research enquiries are increasing.
The University has the distinction of being the first HBCU to sign on to the GCC and I am very proud of that. The Texas Defender regional newspaper published a story on that achievement.
Why do you think other institutions should join the GCC?
They would be giving their students access to priceless knowledge. They’re also joining a community of like-minded individuals with a passion for teaching, and preparing global citizens and future scientists with the necessary skills to understand and solve globally relevant issues that affect all people.
What advice would you give another faculty member about advocating for green chemistry on their campus?
Start small with what is already available. Every effort, no matter how small, is relevant. Don’t be afraid if you are the only one in the beginning. Also stay connected with the community by attending the monthly connections when possible, and reach out if you need help. The online community has a wealth of information and support is always just an email away.