This fall, ChEnected is introducing readers to the recipients of AIChE’s 2020 Institute and Board of Directors’ Awards, which are AIChE’s highest honors. Recipients are nominated by the chemical engineering community and voted on by the members of AIChE’s volunteer-led Awards Committee. These awards recognize outstanding achievements and world-class contributions across a spectrum of chemical engineering endeavors.
Award for Service to Society
AIChE’s Award for Service to Society recognizes outstanding contributions by a chemical engineer to community service and to the solution of socially oriented problems. The honoree’s contributions emphasize a concern for the common good, a willingness to give time and comfort, and the ability to draw together varied resources to solve problems.
This year, the Service to Society Award is being presented to Mary Kathryn (Kathy) Lee, Senior Chemical Engineer at ExxonMobil Corporate Strategic Research in Clifton, NJ.
Lee is being honored “for her dedication to chemical engineering and for addressing issues of diversity and inclusion in the profession. She is also recognized for her service to AIChE committees and the Board of Directors, and for her commitment to future generations of chemical engineers.”
Kathy Lee (right) speaks with chemical engineering students at an industry event.
Lee's background and career
Mary Kathryn Lee received her BS in chemical engineering from MIT, and then attended North Carolina State University as a G.E.M. scholar, graduating with an MS in chemical engineering and a minor in science education. In 1991, Kathy joined Exxon where she has worked in separation science, designing and building new laboratory-scale analytical units to make novel liquid and gas separation experimental measurements.
She holds four patents involving the removal of heteroatoms in petroleum streams, and three other patents for analytical equipment to measure the early onset of haze in lube oils. Her work has also been a key to developing a model of heavy resid viscosity characterization.
On the societal level, Lee has focused on STEM education for underrepresented minorities, starting in her local K–8 schools, where she has developing a whole-school science fair model. She served AIChE most recently as Director (2017–2019). Prior to that, she was a two-time chair of the Minority Affairs Committee (MAC) and was co-organizer of the MAC@25 anniversary celebration and the MAC Futures Fund.
Kathy continues to pursue her passion for expanding opportunity for young chemical engineers by reviewing MAC scholarship applications and organizing the ExxonMobil-sponsored graduate poster session at AIChE’s Annual Meeting. Kathy also serves on National Science Foundation Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) grant committees and on the advisory board for North Carolina A&T State University.