24 Jun 2020

Community Engagement: Creating Inclusive Learning Spaces in Chemistry

Submitted by Sibrina Collins, Marburger STEM Center (MSC) at Lawrence Technological University

The Leadership Council (LC) of IONiC, the online community of inorganic chemistry educators, recently published a strong statement on moving the needle with diversity, equity and inclusion in the chemical sciences.[1] The LC of IONiC wrote, “We, as inorganic chemists, come from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to form one community. One benefit of the diversity is that we, by working together and learning from each other, become better educators and researchers. We are richer and more interesting because we hear from multiple perspectives.” I absolutely agree!

One strategy I used as a former inorganic chemistry professor is to incorporate biographical narratives of women and chemists of color into the chemistry curriculum.[2] Over the years, I have published learning objects (LOs) on the IONiC-VIPEr website for inorganic chemistry educators to implement in their courses. For example, the LO entitled “Gallium Chemistry: To Be or Not To Be a Triple Bond,” was previously used in a junior-level chemistry course,[3] with the final course goal for each student to prepare a research proposal for their senior research projects. This was a fun course to team-teach with my chemistry colleagues! The LO focused on the research of Dr. Gregory Robinson, an amazing inorganic chemistry professor who in the late 1990s published two ground breaking papers about the synthesis of a new gallium compound that contained a Ga-Ga triple bond and ultimately, a second organometallic compound with an Fe-Ga triple bond. (I was a graduate student focusing on organometallic photochemistry in the Department of Chemistry at The Ohio State University during this time and it was indeed an exciting time to be an inorganic chemist!) The students read the editorials regarding the public debates in Chemical and Engineering News and worked in teams to defend the arguments of a single, double or triple metal-metal bond. I recall being so very proud of the students and their thoughtful responses on this effort. These amazing stories can be implemented into the classroom and aligned with classroom content. Dr. Robinson is a prolific researcher with numerous peer-reviewed papers appearing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and Organometallics.

In the fall of 2014, I taught a freshman seminar course with the theme “Science, Gender and Race,” and I utilized my published articles as some content in the class for the students to read and discuss. The freshman students read an editorial entitled “African Americans and Science,” which was published in Chemical and Engineering News.[4] I asked the students to read the editorial, identify the thesis statement and any evidence that was used to support the statement. The students also shared ideas on how the editorial could have been improved. In addition, the students reviewed a published paper about the career of Dr. Thomas Nelson Baker, Jr., who is the first African American to earn a PhD in chemistry from The Ohio State University. Dr. Baker was an organic chemist, and taught at several HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) during his career.[5] Students completed brief essay questions to make connections to Baker. For example, what are some new challenges you are experiencing? (e.g. completing homework, trying to balance sports with academics) Do you think Baker experienced similar challenges as a freshman? Lastly, for the final projects for the course, students delivered presentations focused on the backgrounds and scientific research of diverse scientists. One freshman’s presentation focused on the scientific achievements of Dr. Julia Chan, an inorganic chemistry professor, who does outstanding research focused on solid-state chemistry. Dr. Chan is an amazing inorganic chemist and prolific researcher with numerous peer-reviewed publications in high-impact journals such as the Journal of Applied Physics, Journal of Solid State Chemistry, and Crystal Growth and Design. The final projects for the class is based on an LO entitled “Diverse Voices in Inorganic Chemistry.”[6]

If you need some advice on general chemistry courses, I co-authored a paper entitled “Black Panther, Vibranium and the Periodic Table,” to provide a strategy to engage students to learn about the periodic table.[7] Rather than using the traditional approaches to teach the organization of the periodic table, ask your students where Marvel’s vibranium (Vb) or admantium (Ad), found in Wolverine’s claws, should be placed if they were real! The amazing thing about Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is that is provides an opportunity to discuss the important roles of women and scientists of color in the STEM disciplines. Thus, a chemistry professor discussing the group 3 elements in general chemistry or an organometallic chemistry course could share an image of Dr. Robinson in class and highlight the Ferrogallyne molecule, which contains carbonyl ligands (CO). Similarly, an inorganic chemistry professor that is focused on the f-block elements, could share an image of Dr. Chan in class and highlight her research utilizing lanthanides. Students could write a 400-500 word essay about the science and also talk about what they learned about the background of these inorganic chemists, which is aligned with the chemistry course content. Unfortunately, most chemistry textbooks do not show images of women and chemists of color. However, you can share these images and their research in your classroom to create an inclusive space for your students.  Given we are currently in the midst of a pandemic due to the coronavirus that has disproportionately impacted communities of color, you could extend an invitation for diverse scientists to visit your classrooms using an online platform.

[1] Leadership Council of IONiC “Our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.” (; accessed Jun 24, 2020).

[2] Wang, L.; Satyanarayana, M. “Black Chemists Speak Out About Inequity in STEM.” Chemical and Engineering News (; accessed Jun 19, 2020).

[3]Collins, S.N. “Gallium Chemistry: To Be or Not to Be a Triple Bond.” IONiC-VIPEr (; accessed Jun 24, 2020).

[4]Collins, S.N. “African Americans and Science,” Chem. Eng. News (; accessed Jun 24, 2020).

[5] (a) Collins, S.N. “Bulletin for the History of Chemistry.” IONiC-VIPEr (; accessed Jun 24, 2020); (b) Collins, S.N. “Celebrating Our Diversity. The Education of Some Pioneering African American Chemists in Ohio,” Bull. Hist. Chem. (; accessed June 24, 2020).

[6] Collins, S.N. “Diverse Voices in Inorganic Chemistry.” IONiC-VIPEr (; accessed Jun 24, 2020).

[7] Appleby, L.; Collins, S.N. “Black Panther, Vibranium and the Periodic Table,” J. Chem. Education, 2018 (; accessed Jun 24, 2020).



These are awesome resources, Sibrina. Thank you!!

Thanks Sibrina!