Library director turns a page to community outreach

May 18, 2011

From left) Isom Harrison with Carl Henderson, Saturday Science Academy (SSA) instructor, and Lab employee Tuijauna Mitchell-Hall, SSA, director for Stockton, at a recent science event sponsored by NBOCChE. (Download Image)

Library director turns a page to community outreach

Linda A Lucchetti,, 925-422-5815

For Isom Harrison, the best part of being re-elected the Western region chair of NOBCChE -- the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers -- is his involvement in educational outreach in the community.

Harrison, the Lab's Library director since 1991, has a master's degree in organic chemistry and has been active in NOBCChE for the past 20 years. His most rewarding work, he says, has been within his hometown of Stockton, as well as in Oakland, advocating the importance of science to underrepresented middle and high school students in the African American and Hispanic sectors. He believes young people should be ready to tackle our country's future challenges, and to do that, they will need to be proficient in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

"Minorities are becoming the majority. Our country is built on innovation, and that means knowledge of science and technology. Our kids have to be ready," he says.

NOBCChE's mission is to "develop an eminent cadre of people of color in STEM disciplines." NOBCChE is committed to providing opportunities for broadening the pipeline to STEM careers. Each year during the organization's national conference, the organization sponsors a science fair and science bowl competition.

The science fair provides a venue for students to present original research through a poster competition in which students compete individually. The science bowl allows students to compete in teams of four against other teams in a round robin academic quiz bowl. Both competitions are divided into junior (6-8 grades) and senior (9-12 grades) divisions.

At a regional level, Harrison has worked to bring teacher workshops in science to Stockton, San Diego and Oakland, as well as organized the Saturday Science Academy (SSA) featuring local African American and other scientists and hands-on activities geared to middle school students. Recently, he was successful in inviting Saundra McGuire, professor of chemical education at Louisiana State University, to address a local science teacher conference.

In addition, NOBCChE recognizes undergraduate and graduate students with fellowships coordinated through companies and universities, and scholarships. One such award is named for the late Winifred Burks-Houck who worked as an environmental analyst at LLNL.

The position of Western region chair is a two-year commitment. Harrison says it will take some extra work, but it is all worth it. "I love the focus," he says about working with students and promoting science.

For more information about NBOCChE, go to the NOBCChE Website.