Associate professor of chemistry reflects on Black History Month
Feb 27, 2018 | Atlanta, GA
February is Black History Month, a special time set aside to celebrate the contributions of African Americans. We join the celebration by inviting the perspectives of African-American colleagues through a two-part Q&A.
Stefan France is an associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In his research, he develops synthetic methods and applies them to natural products synthesis and medicinal chemistry. Numerous awards widely recognize his achievements in research, teaching, and mentoring.
Seven Ph.D. students have graduated under his supervision. France’s mentoring reaches far and wide, including more than 50 undergraduates from Georgia Tech and elsewhere. He is active in the American Chemical Society, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), and the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. He is an avid movie buff, sports fan, and supporter of music and arts.
He has been married to his college sweetheart, Sara, for more than 12 years. They have two children.
What is the achievement that you are proudest of so far?
Professionally, my Ph.D. graduates will always be my greatest accomplishments. I am always so proud to be part of each student’s growth and development in graduate school.
As an homage to my Ph.D. students’ contribution and importance to the lab, I created a tradition that has two parts: First, each graduate receives a plaque commemorating their completion of the Ph.D. requirements. Next, I mount a second plaque with the student's name, thesis title, and defense date on a wall in my lab. I’ve labeled this wall of plaques "The Family Tree." Right now, seven plaques are on the wall. Four more will go up by the end of 2019.
This wall is inspirational to my current students, prospective students, and me. It is a point of pride, an anchor to the lab, and – unintentionally – a great recruiting tool.
Current graduate students are excited about the day their plaque goes up. Former students enjoy seeing their name and plaque on the wall. Prospective students are amazed by the wall.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
First, it serves as a reminder of the accomplishments, contributions, and impact of black Americans in this country. Second, it serves as a reminder that a lot of work remains to build true equity, inclusion, diversity, acceptance, and support across all communities.
While I appreciate Black History Month, I would be happier in a world where celebrating black culture is not relegated to one month of each year.
Black History Month encourages me – as a black American – to work harder to encourage and support other people of color while also promoting an environment of inclusiveness, respect, and the open and supportive sharing of ideas. I believe that it is through this environment that student, staff, and faculty can thrive and reach their utmost potential.