June is Pride Month in the U.S. This year, AIChE observes Pride Month by talking to LGBTQ+ chemical engineers and their allies to hear some of their individual stories, challenges, achievements, and more.
AIChE began the series featuring LGBTQ+ engineers and their allies in addition to the Pride Month series as part of an ongoing effort to share stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Other related efforts include a variety of LGBTQ+ programs and events at last year’s Annual Meeting and this year's Spring Meeting. These programs and events are all supported by the AIChE Foundation’s Doing a World of Good Campaign.
In this installment of our series, AIChE Celebrates Pride Month by sharing a conversation with Reginald Rogers Jr., who talks about his story as an LGBTQ+ ChemE professional working as an Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering at the University of Missouri.
Where did you complete your chemical engineering education?
I completed my BS at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, my MS at Northeastern University, and I received my PhD from the University of Michigan.
How many years have you been a member of AIChE?
I have been an AIChE member for 20 years.
Tell us a bit about your job and your job responsibilities. What’s a typical day at work?
Currently, I am an Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering. I also serve as the Director of Graduate Studies for the chemical engineering program. As an Associate Professor, my primary duties include teaching several courses, completing research in separation and energy applications, and service obligations. As Director of Graduate Studies, I am primarily focused on recruitment of graduate students. This involves ensuring graduate students are staying on track for completion of their degrees and resolving any issues that may arise with graduate students. A typical day involves teaching my class, holding office hours, resolving any service obligations that require my attention, and keeping up to date with my students in my research laboratory.
Tell us a bit about your experience as an out LGBTQ+ professional working in engineering.
I came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community pretty recently. I am also an URM (underrepresented minority), and a member of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community. Being an African American professional working in engineering comes with its own set of challenges. Adding the extra layer of being gay can sometimes present even more difficulties and pressure. However, through many life experiences, I have learned to be resilient and push through any adversities artificially placed in front of me. Although difficult at times, I'm grateful that my journey has allowed me to mentor others experiencing similar struggles, to ensure they know that they are not alone.
What are the most important issues that LGBTQ+ engineers deal with in the workplace today?
One of the most important issues that LGBTQ+ engineers deal with in the workplace is the mindset of “separate but equal.” We are told that there is equity in the workplace, however, I have experienced firsthand the inequities faced by those who choose to be out about their identity. This stems from a persistent fear regarding LGBTQ+ people, which should not exist.
Another issue is the lack of inclusion. Many times, decisions on DEI matters are made without any input from marginalized groups; or input is received but dismissed. This has to change if we truly desire to cultivate an inclusive environment.
Taking the time to hear the full story will provide perspective that can help allies and management understand how the culture must change for others to feel welcomed.
Do you know others in the profession who struggle with being out in today’s workplace?
Yes, I have colleagues who are struggling with being out because of fear of retaliation from their supervisors who may disagree with their identity.
How can people (peers who are allies, and members of management and leadership who are allies) help foster a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ chemical engineers?
I would say the first thing people should do to foster a more inclusive environment is listen to our stories. It’s already difficult to insert oneself into a group when people speak in negative tones without knowing the facts. Taking the time to hear the full story will provide perspective that can help allies and management understand how the culture must change for others to feel welcomed.
It is imperative for these individuals to lead by example. They must mean what they say and not use it as a political tool to gain favor without the intention of acting on those words.
Tell us a bit about your personal life that will help AIChE members perceive a bit about your personality
I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. In 2010, I moved to Rochester and began my academic career at The Rochester Institute of Technology. In 2019, I made the transition to the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. I am an adventure seeker and enjoy being outdoors. People know me to be a travel enthusiast and I have been pretty much all over the United States. I like to take things one day at a time and enjoy the moment.
As I mentioned earlier, previous life experiences, including a near-death traumatic car accident, have taught me to enjoy every moment. When I’m not working, I will typically be taking an Orangetheory class; running outdoors to prepare for a race; taking in a sports event (i.e., baseball, football, or hockey); or just chilling with friends. This is a phrase I like to tell many people: “Forget regret…or life is yours to miss.” It’s essential to live life without worries.
Do you have a coming out story you’d like to share?
My coming out story stems from a close relationship I have built with a mentee who has become a true younger brother to me. He identifies as LGBTQ+ and faced numerous struggles with coming out to his friends and family. I recall a life changing conversation for both us, as I was the first person he told about his true identity. As our friendship grew stronger, I knew he sensed I was gay and that he could confide in me.
Over time, he helped me realize it was okay to be out about my identity and that I shouldn’t fear what others might think. After all of our conversations, I finally made the decision to come out in the open instead of hiding my true self as I had done in the past. Words alone cannot describe how eternally grateful I am for his love and support through my struggles with being open about my identity, and for helping me come out about being gay.
Do you have a story about an effective or inspirational professional ally you’d like to share?
I have a colleague here at the University of Missouri who is my “partner in crime” in terms of our positions as Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Graduate Studies. She and I work hand in hand to ensure all of our students’ needs are met in the appropriate manner. I have enjoyed her company as she is an advocate for justice, equity, and inclusion of all groups. We typically have a weekly happy hour to blow off steam and talk about struggles we are facing in the workplace. This time also allows us to talk about strategies we can implement to foster change within our college and at the university level. She is a true champion of not only students, but colleagues.
What’s your dream getaway?
My dream getaway would be to travel to Australia for about a month to check out all parts of the country. I have heard so much about being Down Under that my curiosity runs rampant just thinking about it. Being able to see the Outback or Cairns (Great Barrier Reef) would be fantastic. Even hanging around Sydney would be memorable. Yep, a trip to Australia would be my dream getaway.
Join AIChE’s LGBTQ+ & Allies Online Community
This community is open to professional AIChE members who are LGBTQ+ and allies. Topics of discussion will include the ongoing development of LGBTQ+ initiatives within AIChE, plus issues concerning, and opportunities for, LGBTQ+ chemical engineering professionals.
Learn more about AIChE's Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives.
Interested in helping?
Are you an LGBTQ+ chemical engineer and AIChE member interested in sharing your story to help create awareness around diversity and inclusion? Are you an LGBTQ+ ally interested in helping with diversity and inclusion efforts? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Diversity and Inclusion.”