Celebrating Black History Month and Dr. Donovan Thompson

Celebrating Black History Month and Dr. Donovan Thompson

Many times, when we think of Black History, we focus on the historical perspective and often do not have a personal connection to the person we are learning about. During this Black History Month, our own Black Employees Connect (BE Connect) group is encouraging our employees to get a bit more personal. Each week throughout the month of February, BE Connect will highlight the story of someone that has, or is, shaping the lives of those that we work with daily. By reading these stories, BE Connect hopes to add even more richness to this month of celebration. Last week we introduced you to Barbara Brown Richardson.

Dr. Donovan Thompson
Dr. Donovan Thompson

This week, we are sharing the story of Dr. Donovan Thompson, a New Product Development Program Leader at Albemarle. Donovan leads Innovation Programs in the Oil and Gas Industry for our Bromine GBU. Donovan is a native of Savannah, GA, and he is happily married to his wife, Tomeka. His parents, Tony and Dr. Cora Thompson, both attended college and preached the value of education which led Donovan and his three brothers (he is a fraternal twin) to attend college.

Donovan’s love for STEM started at age 5 when he asked for microscopes, encyclopedia sets and telescopes for Christmas and birthday gifts. His parents (and brothers…) thought it was weird, but they admired the young curiosity. He later went on to compete at various science competitions in grade school at local and regional levels, and eventually he obtained a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Florida and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Georgia Southern University. 

In this Q&A session we learn more about Donovan and some of his proudest accomplishments. 

ALBEMARLE: As a black man in a highly technical career, what challenges have you had to overcome (if any) to achieve the accomplishments you have to date?

DONOVAN: One of my biggest challenges to date has been getting some people to take me seriously as a “young” person in my career. For example, some individuals have expressed the depth (or lack thereof) of my experiences and intellect. To overcome a phenomenon, I typically just apply pressure in the form of showcasing my impact, collaborating with the challenge to provide them with a different perspective, and giving them my time.

What is one achievement or action you are most proud of that has had an impact on the black community?
I am proud to be a Scientist/Chemist and I believe it has made an impact on the black community because: STEM and minority groups are not well connected; I am an example to the younger generation that a black man can become a Scientist/Chemist, it removes the “I cannot do it barrier;” and I am my ancestor’s continued dream due to the fact that most of them were inventors and scientists. Some everyday items, applications, and products that were invented and made by African Americans include: the mailbox, potato chips, home security system, and the Super Soaker (water gun).

What do you desire for people to see when they see you?
I want people to see integrity, authenticity, endurance, resilience, and light (it removes darkness and causes things to shine).

What legacy do you desire to leave?
The footprint I aim to leave may change in the next 30+ years since I have some time to go (lol). However, I want my impact to increase the number of Black Scientists in the chemical industry, more black males possessing S.T.E.M. related degrees (and Ph.D.s for that matter), more interest in Science from minority groups in grade schools, societal stigmas being broken around African American Excellence and History. I am a disruptor, and I hope to be a part of the change.

Dr. Donovan Thompson Reading in His Home

Have you ever been published?
I have scientific publications from my Ph.D. research, a few patents from my previous employer, and I wrote my first book, The Periodik Change in Me = U!

What was your motivation to write your book, The Periodik Change in Me = U!?
My first motivation was to kill the perspective that S.T.E.M. and Science should be limited to people who have technical backgrounds. We, as humans, use Science/STEM daily, even the non-technical individuals. However, the lack of appreciation for it is a result of how scary the subject matter may be to some. The idea was to showcase how the Scientific method can be applied to all our day-to-days, even if you are not a scientist or an engineer. The second motivation was to be a voice in the field connecting to both adults and children as a Scientist “who gets it” from the simplest perspective.

What do you hope people take away from your book, The Periodik Change in Me = U!?
This book is for the everyday person that goes through trials and tribulations in their relationships with family members, children, and spouses. It is also for the person that desires structure in their attempt to navigate through any situation dealing with money, school, church, organization, and personal matters. It describes process, cause and effect, and how we should use a scientific method model to navigate through our struggles. This is very essential because, at times, we have bias and other lenses preventing us from dissecting the root of our problems. The use of this model helps avoid that by: 1) asking the right question, 2) having a hypothesis, 3) experimenting to test the hypothesis, 4) a second round of experimentation to narrow the results, 5) analyzing the data/drawing conclusions, 6) communicating your results.

What is one thing you want people to know about Donovan Thompson?
I am an authentic disruptor, but I do it with a smile!

What keeps you motivated in your career and in your personal life?
My motivation stems from the potential to provide service to others in the form of being an example, helping someone achieve something I was or was not able to, being a hand of encouragement and a beacon of light to others, and overcoming the fears life presents to me with my passions.

Have you taken the path you expected/planned to take in life? Yes or no, what were the drivers that allowed you to achieve or what caused you to pivot?
No, I took a different route. I initially wanted to become a Pharmacist and was on track during my undergraduate studies to achieve this goal. However, I changed my mind due to lack of interest in the subject during my studies, and an internship that caused me to realize it was not for me. The study of medicine and the body is interesting, but the “creation” of such medicines became more of a fascination. Nevertheless, I embraced that I could still become a “Doctor,” just one in the form of Science, Chemistry, and Philosophy that could impact the world from a difference lens.

Who is (are) your biggest role model(s)?
1) Dr. Percy L. Julian, and 2) Langston Hughes

Do you plan to author any other books?
Yes, I want to write a few children stories and STEM-related life books to showcase that Science is just as easy as other subjects and areas. We just need to start the conversation.

Dr. Donovan Thompson Hanging Out
More about Dr. Thompson 

Donovan holds an Innovation Leadership Certificate from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. He conducted research through the National Science Foundation during his undergraduate studies at: Georgia Southern University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Graz Institute of Technology (Graz, Austria); and the University of Florida. During his Ph.D., he worked at the Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research in Dresden, Germany, and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany.

Some of his awards include: Florida Education-McKnight Dissertation Fellowship, UF International-Research Abroad Scholarship, Coca-Cola Scholarship, Colgate-Palmolive Award, SMART Science Award, Agape Family Church (Rahway, NJ) “2016 Men Who Rock” Award, AkzoNobel 2017 Early Career Scientist Award, Georgia Southern University 40 under 40 Class of 2018, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. New Brunswick (NJ) Alumni (NBA) Chapter President’s Award, and New Brunswick (NJ) Alumni Chapter Mentorship Service Award. He is also an active mentor to young men in the Kappa Leadership League (under the umbrella of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated), a judge for high school and college science fairs with the NJ-American Chemical Society, STEM Industrial Chair of the Newark, NJ Career & Technical Education (CTE) Network, and a CrossFit-gym enthusiast.