Women’s History Month: Q&A with Talitha Hampton, President of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers

Hampton is not only a chemical engineer; she is the president of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers

Talitha Hampton
Image: File

The National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers elected its youngest president in its 40-year history who also happens to be a woman.

[Related: Howard University Introduces D.C Kids to Robot and NASA Scientists and Engineers]

BlackEnterprise.com: What is your current job and background?

Hampton: I am a chemical engineer program manager for Astra Zeneca. I was at Merck. I joined [NOBCChE] when I was in grad school. [I’m] passionate about how [the organization] helps chemists and chemical engineers. I have undergrad degrees in math and computer science.

Does your computer science/development education help you as a chemical engineer?

The further I get away from it, the less I draw on it immediately. I am able to look at a system and understand how it works. Most of what we deal with is enabled by some sort of information technology. Even if I am not connected the way I used to be, I understand how [something] works. [It] allows me to stay relevant, particularly with some of the students on the team—it keeps me young!

I can go into the back-end and fix it. It was a natural progression for me.

What do you do at Astra Zeneca?

I work in our commercial operations group. I manage different programs and portfolios that come from R&D and help them launch.

How is diversity in chemical engineering?

Getting better, but still God-awful. NSF (National Science Foundation) maintains a database of metrics. In ’74, there were 54 (black chemical engineers). And in 2014 there were 700. When you look at the total number (of black PhDs in STEM) it’s in the twenty thousands.

In my experience it’s rare to find another black female chemical engineer—even at an HBCU. If you look at Howard, they have the strongest chemical engineering programs; even that program doesn’t have a lot of women.

Why do you think this is?

It’s almost like you are programmed to think that chemical engineering is the hardest and most impossible [of the STEM studies]. Sometimes we are not exposed to it earlier “Oh, I hated it [chemistry], doesn’t that require a lot of math..?”

You don’t usually get positive undertones, whereas if you say “I want to be a doctor, you get, “Oh, that’s great.”