Barnes and Loomis win Packard Foundation grant for increasing diversity in STEM

Through the Packard Foundation’s STEM DEI program, the Department of Chemistry will expand its efforts to recruit, mentor, support, and train outstanding scientists from diverse backgrounds.

Jonathan Barnes, assistant professor, and Richard Loomis, professor and director of graduate studies, both in the Department of Chemistry in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, recently won a four-year $90,000 grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for the recruitment and retention of underrepresented graduate students in chemistry’s doctoral program. Each year for four years, the Packard award will support three incoming graduate students, with one additional student funded by commitments from Feng Sheng Hu, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, interim vice provost of graduate education, and the Department of Chemistry.

Richard Loomis (left) and Jonathan Barnes (right)

Based on 23 years of tracking attrition, productivity, and job placement, Barnes and Loomis have identified prior research experience at an R1 institution as the number one predictor for success in the chemistry doctoral program at WashU. With the support of the Packard Foundation and A&S leadership, the cohort of (on average) four incoming graduate students each year of the four-year grant will pursue research and gain valuable laboratory experience during the summer prior to beginning graduate studies. Bringing students in the summer before their graduate studies officially start allows them to hone necessary skills and acclimate to the department, establishing strong foundations for both professional success and inclusive community support.

Throughout the graduate program, students will also receive peer mentorship and participate in a career mentoring program, including opportunities to network with professionals in industry, academic, and government positions. These structured mentorship opportunities will build on students’ early research foundations, ensuring that more diverse and underrepresented students successfully complete the chemistry doctoral program and are well-prepared to enter the workforce.

“The commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in STEM should extend well beyond just admissions. It is important for the community to not only provide opportunities, but to ensure that individuals are put in a position to succeed post-graduation,” Barnes said. “This DEI program will allow individuals to get a head start on scientific training and skills development prior to starting in our PhD program, and it will also emphasize building career networks and long-term professional relationships that will establish a foundation for future success.”

“The support from the Packard Foundation and Washington University – including Dean Hu, Vice Provost Maffly-Kipp, and Chemistry Department Chair Buhro – will allow us to build and sustain a viable DEI program that will strengthen the chemistry department, while simultaneously supporting the next generation of world-class scientists from all backgrounds,” Barnes noted.

Barnes and Loomis anticipate that this award from the Packard Foundation will catalyze ongoing DEI efforts, and they intend to continue the program beyond the four years of the award.