President’s Message: Reflections on 2022 and Our “NEXT”

The role of chemical engineers in the global economy has changed significantly since my college graduation. Yet, AIChE, as a home to the profession, continues to create a thriving ecosystem that promotes multidisciplinary interactions, identifies global solutions to grand challenges, and educates the next generation.

We are a community of leaders, learners, and legacy-builders — and AIChE has laid a strong foundation for us in education, emphasizing process safety, biological systems, energy, and the environment. In 2022, the Institute continued to harness myriad resources to meet the needs of our worldwide, multidisciplinary membership.

As I approach my 33-year anniversary as a faculty member at North Carolina State Univ., I view my AIChE presidential journey through a reflective lens. As president, my mission has been to create a culture of cohesion and collective work where voices matter, while challenging members to pursue their own “NEXT” — NEXT being that which is New, EXciting, and Transformational. NEXT can be a career move, a leadership opportunity, or, most importantly, the next connection we make with peers, including those who are outside our familiar communities. This is critically important as we collectively pursue our NEXT in the shadow of the pandemic and recent global unrest — both of which have had unprecedented impacts on the world’s economies.

It’s impossible to list all the accomplishments of AIChE’s team of professionals, led by our new CEO and Executive Director, Darlene Schuster. Her leadership has facilitated a robust, cooperative engagement among our constituencies. By developing partnerships across the Institute, we can enable the success of all members and stakeholders. That can provide a pathway for all of us to grow into our “NEXT.”

As AIChE president, I was invited to speak at several international conferences, which enabled me to discuss concepts associated with “What is our NEXT?” I’ll reflect on my four main goals for this year.

Provide robust mentorship for members and leaders

Mentoring has been at the core of my own professional progress, and the chemical engineering profession has benefited from the mentoring, coaching, advising, and advocating that we do for each other. In our recent AIChE Presidential Blue Ribbon Task Force on Coaching and Mentoring, representatives from academia and industry worked to establish a new initiative for members and leaders, extracting best practices from what we already do well, providing learning opportunities to do even better, and celebrating mentoring exemplars. I believe that each member should be empowered to create their own personalized, impactful mentoring team — and that AIChE can help.

Establish a governance plan for ILI

Chemical engineers are lifelong learners, with our degrees providing a foundation in technical acumen and problem-solving. AIChE continues to transform to meet the needs of the field, exemplified by our Institute for Learning and Innovation (ILI), which is offering new credentials in hydrogen safety and process intensification, in addition to expansions such as data analytics internships, Sustainable Energy Corps projects, and Career Discovery Workshops. A new governance plan integrates ILI into the fabric of AIChE, providing new opportunities for innovative learning.

Create programming in pursuit of the “L” in IDEAL

The “L” in IDEAL emphasizes an openness and commitment to learning. Through education we build allyship. AIChE has created awareness for IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-Racism, Learning) through the programming of our Women in Chemical Engineering Community (WIC) and blog series for Black History, Women’s History, and Pride Month. Also in 2022, the AIChE Foundation supported the launch of a National Diversity Equity Workshop for Chemical Engineering Academic Leaders, held June 27–28 in Baltimore, MD.

Enhance industry and academic convergence

The collaborative creativity of AIChE staff, member volunteers, and our many communities was instrumental in several transformative initiatives. In the realm of major meetings and conferences, AIChE’s 2022 Spring and Annual meetings returned to fully in-person formats. Sponsorship and exhibit revenue at the Spring Meeting exceeded pre-pandemic benchmarks. The Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) has been implementing an early career professional training module, leadership workshops, and new publications. Through funding by the AIChE Foundation, CCPS’s Undergraduate Process Safety Learning Initiative updated two SAChE modules and held five process safety student bootcamps and four faculty workshops. The Center for Hydrogen Safety (CHS) recruited additional corporate members and conducted its first LinkedIn Live event for 365 participants. Our RAPID Manufacturing Institute was awarded $9.5 million by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to fund pandemic response projects.

The AIChE Foundation led the way in several technical and “people developing” realms. The Foundation and the Society for Biological Engineering (SBE) celebrated the legacy of AIChE’s former Executive Director and CEO with the launch of the June Wispelwey Bio Leadership Fellowship. The Regenerative Engineering Society recognized its founder, Cato T. Laurencin, with a new award. At the 2022 Summer School for Faculty of Chemical Engineering, I was honored to present a keynote to more than 230 faculty at an event co-organized by AIChE’s Education Div. Also, as a driver of the Future of STEM Scholars Initiative (FOSSI), the Foundation marked a fundraising milestone, raising $30 million to support 550 scholars.

I am excited that AIChE continues to thrive, exceeding expectations in several realms and ensuring that our constituents’ needs are met with relevant initiatives.

AIChE is responding to our profession’s needs with a diversity of products and services. Student members who become member professionals can participate in the Young Professionals community, interface with our technical communities, and gain knowledge via the array of conferences, seminars, courses, and workshops delivered annually. For established professionals, we encourage you to renew your membership and increase your engagement in the organization whose purpose is to help you to achieve your “NEXT” in the areas that interest you.

I recommend that you stay connected to the profession and your peers through AIChE, so that you stay informed about the expanding reach of chemical engineering. I guarantee that you’ll be empowered in the new, exciting and transformational days ahead.