Laurel Wreath recipient Dr. Bobby Wilson recaps his career and appreciates his latest achievement

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It has always been my goal since obtaining my higher education to not only become a scholar and a researcher, but to also assist others to obtain an education.  After growing up in a small town in Mississippi during the first half of the twentieth century, I understood that educational opportunities are not always equal for African Americans and that many do not have the support or the means to obtain a higher education for their children.  As for myself, I have been fortunate in that I had relatives as well as parents who supported my desire to obtain a college education and provided me with some assistance and much encouragement. Along with working to provide help with tuition, I was able to obtain a bachelor’s degree and scholarships and these opportunities along with working in the academic setting allowed me to obtain the master and doctorate degrees as well.

I started my undergraduate career at Alabama State University where I met a Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Curtis McDonald who became my mentor and helped me in my efforts to receive an undergraduate career and provided the stimulus and encouragement to propel me into achieving and desiring the doctorate degree.  Dr. McDonald then moved on to Texas Southern University, and therefore I decided that I wanted to use my education at a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), Texas Southern University, specifically, in order to assist young men and women with their goals for a higher education.  Fortunately, through scholarships, grant writing, and research, I have been able to achieve this goal.

Like most new assistant professors, I started teaching courses in general chemistry as well as inorganic chemistry; however, recently my  teaching assignments have included senior level undergraduate research and seminar courses in chemistry and research and dissertation and seminar courses in the Ph.D. degree environmental toxicology program.  My research has focused upon unusual metal-centered complexes of early first, second and third row transition elements using spectroscopic techniques and the area of environmental chemistry and environmental toxicology in particularly water and air pollution. In addition to water and air, trace metal and radionuclide concentrations are also being investigated.  Other areas of concerns are catalytic coal liquefaction to enhance the conversion yields and properties of the liquid products from coal and the synthesis of transition metal complexes as models in an effort to reduce lunar materials, such as titanium ilmenite (FeTi03) and rutile (TiO2) with the production of molecular oxygen.  This could lead to the production of molecular oxygen on the moon.

As founding director of Texas Southern University’s NASA University Research Center, I have  lead a team to investigate the toxicology of the space travel environment using cutting-edge tools, approaches, and applications of nanotechnology and genomics. The overall goals, associated with the two focus areas of microorganism and genotoxicology, were to identify “space genes” that may affect human adaptation in the space environment and to measure oxidative stress and DNA damage in human and mammalian cells. I have also been instrumental in building the research component of the science programs at Texas Southern University, and my efforts have generated over $37 million (over $100 million indirectly) in research and training grants to the university.  This commitment to promoting the University’s research agenda for its professors and producing future scientists led to the construction of the Texas Southern University Science Center, a $35 million structure with state of the art laboratories, classrooms, and computer labs.  A 4,300 square feet lab houses the National Science Foundation’s Houston Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program within the new science building.  This lab is complete with 33 computers, two large printers, and two 50-inch plasma flat screen monitors.

I have also been privileged to be the co-principal investigator for the consortium of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in seven Houston-area colleges and university which is designed to substantially increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Its success at Texas Southern University and other Houston-area colleges and universities has been judged to be among the best LSAMP program in the nation.  Thus, I have had the opportunity to mentor over 70 MS students in chemistry and 20 MS and/or Ph.D. students in the Environmental Toxicology Program, and I have been instrumental in establishing as Texas Southern University’s first Ph.D. program in 1994 and later three additional Ph.D. degree programs during period 2002-2007.

Nevertheless, it was surprising to me that others noticed the work I had been doing throughout the years at Texas Southern University.  I started my career with the goal of rising through the rank and tenure process in order to achieve the title of Full Professor of Chemistry and mentoring students in the STEM area. Fortunately, I also had the opportunity to become involved in the administration of the university and thereby encourage and support students in the process I have also had the opportunity to serve as a Program Officer for the National Science Foundation which also assisted me in understanding the grant process and assist institutions which serve minority populations in the area of the STEM sciences. I have also been involved in the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) and am presently Chairman of the Board; the organization has been working with American Chemical Society (ACS) on coordinated projects.  As a result of these efforts, I have now been honored to receive the American Associate for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement and for this I am very grateful.  The AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement was established I 1991to honor AAAS members who have mentored a significant number of students from underrepresented groups or who have changed the climate of a department, college, institution, or field to significantly increase the diversity of students pursuing and completing doctoral studies in the sciences.  The award is directed toward individuals with more than 25 years of success in mentoring students.

 

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