[caption id="attachment_212648" align="aligncenter" width="961"] Mark & Betsy Vergnano recently donated $3 million to the University of Connecticut to found an institute devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in engineering. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHEMOURS[/caption]
WILMINGTON – As he winds down a career in chemical engineering, Chemours CEO Mark Vergnano is already looking to make another lasting impact.Earlier this month, Vergnano and his wife, Betsy, donated $3 million to their alma mater, the University of Connecticut, to establish the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion, an endowed institute at the School of Engineering that will drive increased diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the field. The gift is one of the largest DEI-focused donations in the university’s history.Vergnano, who will retire from Chemours on July 1 and transition into a board chair appointment of the company he’s led since it spun off from DuPont in 2015, has sought to increase diversity of the engineering field for many years.He led Chemours during its launch of the Future of Chemistry Scholarship (FOCS) program in 2017 and its subsequent joining of the Future of STEM Scholars Initiative (FOSSI), an industry-wide partnership providing scholarships, internships, and mentorship to students pursuing a STEM education at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Today, Vergnano serves as FOSSI’s founding chair.“First of all, a diverse workplace improves a company. There are so many studies that show diversity leads to improved innovation and better business performance. In addition, the U.S. will create 1 million STEM-based jobs in the next 10 years, and we don’t have the pipeline in place to support that need. Targeting underrepresented students within STEM fields solves both issues,” Vergnano told Delaware Business Times about his passion for DEI efforts.Initiatives like FOSSI and greater recognition of diversity in hiring and promotion in recent years are making a meaningful difference, but “there is still work to be done,” Vergnano said.Women and people of color represent less than 20% of the American STEM workforce, he said, and the greatest obstacle to changing those statistics is the industry’s attraction to the talent pool.“To solve this, we need to create cohorts of incoming students that feel empowered and included. That is why mentoring, both peer and professional, is key,” he said. “It is not only about attracting these talented students; it is about successfully matriculating them into the workforce.”To that end, the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion will provide a number of underrepresented students with scholarships to and resources within the School of Engineering, including mentorship opportunities and training, each year. Vergnano said that UConn is now seeking Connecticut-based employers that could provide those opportunities for students.The institute, and gifts from our donors, will also support K-12 awareness programs for underrepresented students, inclusive programming within the School of Engineering, peer and professional mentoring, leadership training, internships and many other items in addition to providing the necessary scholarships and financial aid.“My wife Betsy and I are excited to aid in these efforts at our alma mater and create a model for more schools to follow. But this is just a start,” Vergnano said. “We need alumni and companies to join in the effort, whether in Connecticut through the Institute or across the U.S. in programs like FOSSI.”For more information visitinclusion.engr.uconn.edu.