Skip to main content
Marilyn Mackiewicz standing in front of a black backdrop.

Inclusive Excellence Lecture: Empowering Cultures of Belonging

By Hannah Ashton

National Science Foundation CAREER award recipient Marilyn Rampersad Mackiewicz will present the inaugural 2022 College of Science Inclusive Excellence Lecture, “Empowering Cultures of Belonging: Thriving, Innovating and Solving Global Challenges.”

The lecture is open to all and will be held on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 5:30 p.m. RSVP today.

The Inclusive Excellence Award was created in 2019 to recognize the outstanding work of a faculty, staff or student in advancing inclusive excellence at Oregon State. The College of Science believes that science should be by all and for all — informed by a wide variety of perspectives, backgrounds and experiences.

Previous recipients have included the student club Physicists for Inclusion in Science (PhIS), biochemistry and biophysics graduate student Heather Masson-Forsythe and Interim Dean Vrushali Bokil.

In her talk, Mackiewicz will share her research on the development of safe nanomaterials for clinical translation by constructing a systems-level understanding of nanoparticle-biological interactions and toxicity, highlighting her experiences in science as an immigrant to the U.S. and a first-generation student. She will also discuss efforts within the Department of Chemistry to build a community that embeds inclusive excellence within every initiative and action.

Filling in the gaps

Since arriving at Oregon State in 2020, Mackiewicz has created and implemented two undergraduate courses focused on fostering a sense of belonging and inspiring leadership development.

“I started building a curriculum on communication, self-advocacy, and leadership based on my psychology background and experiences in STEM,” she said. “I wanted to give my students transferable skills so they wouldn’t struggle because I felt like I struggled and things were tougher. My place in life is to make things easier for the people who come after me.”

One of those courses, “Careers in Chemistry,” discusses strategies for success in the study of chemistry and the many career opportunities in the field. Topics range from surviving first-year chemistry to study abroad opportunities and internships. Mackiewicz finds the topics the students value the most include self-advocacy, teamwork skills, negotiation, networking and building confidence in STEM.

“Transferable Professional and Scientific Skills for Chemists,” the second course, emphasizes key interpersonal and leadership skills for working in teams and collaborative environments. Students utilize strategies for time management to balance research and academic goals. The course also focuses on how to read and understand scientific literature, presentation practice and other skills necessary to succeed in research learning environments.

In both courses, Mackiewicz unabashedly shares personal missteps about her own educational journey, from earning a D in organic chemistry to receiving an F in physics while attending Hunter College in New York. These experiences made her realize higher education was fraught with systemic inequities and essential “hidden curriculum” skills that most students like herself were missing.

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Mackiewicz moved to the United States at 16 years old and was the first person in her family to graduate high school, college and earn a Ph.D. “There are a lot of skills that you learn throughout your life through a slow osmosis process that I learned later on, for example, how important it is to self-advocate for yourself. Skills that you need much earlier on in life,” she said.

This led to her passion for mentoring, supporting and advocating for students, particularly those from underserved communities.

Inspired by her undergraduate research experience, Mackiewicz left the East Coast and pursued her Ph.D. at Texas A&M University in bioinorganic and organometallics chemistry. After a brief career as a process engineer at Intel, she returned to academia to complete her post-doctoral studies in nanomaterials chemistry at Portland State University.

Oregon became her home and she stayed at Portland State for 12 years as a non-tenure track faculty member before being recruited to Oregon State by Dr. Michael Lerner through the Tenured Faculty Diversity Initiative.

Mackiewicz also shared that her students motivate her to be vulnerable – a decision that has been a catalyst for inspiring positive change through storytelling

“These are the personal stories of my failures and my triumphs that go into the classroom because it builds connection with the students – and it empowers them,” she said.

Small things with big impacts

Receiving the Inclusive Excellence Award and hosting the inaugural lecture is an honor that Mackiewicz cherishes. “I represent so many people, including my students and my department who has been incredibly supportive to me.”

Her goal is to embolden every member of the College of Science to take small steps toward creating the culture of inclusion they want to see and feel.

“Small things can have a big impact, and I hope folks realize it’s everyone's job to create that culture. It’s not one person's job,” she said.