The Meaning in Mentoring: An Interview with MAC Chair Audie Thompson

Audie Thompson, Chair of AIChE’s Minority Affairs Committee

This month, ChEnected observes Black History Month with posts about AIChE’s progress toward equity and inclusion, and the people and groups that have made a difference.

Over its history, AIChE has been shaped and guided by its volunteer leaders, who help chart the course of the Institute and mentor their peers in the chemical engineering communities. 

One of these leaders and mentors is Dr. Audie Key Thompson, who chairs AIChE’s Minority Affairs Committee (MAC). A biochemistry PhD alumna of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Thompson is now an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Arkansas, where her lab designs membranes and biomaterials for drug delivery. 

Thompson credits MAC’s Janice Lumpkin Travel Grant program with stimulating her own feeling of connectedness with MAC and the AIChE community. The grant supported Thompsons’ attendance at the 2014 AIChE Annual Meeting, while she was performing postdoctoral work at Prairie View A&M University. The annual grants, says Thompson, continue to connect minority engineers with AIChE, and she continues to receive letters of appreciation from grant recipients who have benefitted from their introduction to MAC and the mentorship they have received through their involvement with AIChE.

ChEnected interviewed Thompson and asked her to reflect on her journey and the value of mentorship.

Who were your most influential mentors and chemical engineering role models?

My mother inspired me the most. She is one of the first persons to introduce me to science, and I gained an appreciation for learning and education from her. During my chemical engineering education, my mentors included Drs. Felecia Nave (Alcorn State University) and Michael Gyamerah (Prairie View A&M). They are chemical engineers who care about students. They have high expectations and help you reach your potential. 

What have been the meaningful aspects of your involvement in MAC?

It’s the engagement with undergraduates. The networking sessions MAC has held at the AIChE Annual Student Conference are impactful for the students and for us. We inform the students about MAC, but we also get to mentor them by sharing our professional experiences.  

Where does our community need to make more progress in serving underrepresented groups?

I’d like to see more mentoring and professional development, so that underrepresented groups are well represented as presenters and participants. MAC and AIChE need to be more intentional in training underrepresented groups for leadership roles in the society and profession. 

Building on the accomplishments of the past 30 years, what is the Minority Affairs Committee’s vision for the years ahead?

MAC’s vision is to promote more diversity and inclusion in the chemical engineering profession. We want to see a more diverse profession with people of color being more visible. MAC members will continue to train and mentor the next generation of professionals. One strategy is to build strategic alliances both internally and externally. For example, MAC will collaborate with and support the initiatives of AIChE’s Women’s Initiatives Committee, the Disabilities Outreach and Inclusion Committee, and LBGQT+ and Allies Community. 

What would you like readers to know about MAC?

MAC’s membership is diverse, and we welcome everyone. We want to help propel AIChE to the next level where everyone feels a part of the society and can find their place. 

Closing thoughts about the value of mentoring? 

Mentoring is a two-way relationship, and mentors receive benefits just as the mentees do. It’s rewarding to see a mentee reach their potential and accomplish their goals. I couldn’t have made it thus far without multiple mentors. One of my current mentors, Dr. Isabel Escobar (University of Kentucky), continues to push me forward, challenge me to keep going, and is an advocate for me when I am not present. I will do the same for others and continue to pay it forward.