Newswise — March 20, 2014 – Warrendale, PA (USA) - Viola L. Acoff, professor and head of the Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department at the University of Alabama (UA), has been named the inaugural recipient of the 2014 Ellen Swallow Richards Diversity Award, given by The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS). The award recognizes an individual who reflects the remarkable pioneering spirit of Ellen Swallow Richards in overcoming personal, professional, educational, cultural, or institutional adversity to pursue a career in minerals, metals, and/or materials, or in helping others to overcome these challenges to pursue such a career.
“When I first read the description of this award I was immediately struck by how closely Dr. Acoff fit the stated criteria,” wrote Garry W. Warren, professor emeritus at the University of Alabama and 2011 TMS president, when he nominated Acoff for the award.
Acoff, a longtime member of TMS, is the ninth of 10 children born to Roosevelt Acoff, Sr., and the late Mary Winfield Acoff of Bessemer, Alabama. Although the family was of modest means, Acoff’s parents encouraged their children to become formally educated. Acoff received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in materials engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and began working at UA in 1994 as an assistant professor of metallurgical and materials engineering. She was promoted to associate professor and granted tenure in 2000, and promoted to professor in 2004.
Acoff has been active in various areas of research related to welding, and has been awarded more than $7 million in externally-funded research grants, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. She has published more than 75 peer reviewed papers, co-authored three books and co-edited three books. Her personal mission to increase the number of science and engineering degrees awarded to students from underrepresented minority groups has included serving since 1996 as UA’s director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program (LSAMP), and extensive outreach to 82 of the nation’s 99 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
As the driving force behind LSAMP and Introducing Science Faculty from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) to Materials Science and Engineering, Acoff has been highly successful in promoting the field of materials science to minority groups. The LSAMP program has directly affected 81 students to date. The HBCU program has involved nearly 300 faculty members over its 12 years.
In 2008, Acoff was appointed head of the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering. In 2009, she was also appointed head of the Department of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering, and served in the dual capacity for a year. For her outstanding achievements in leadership at UA, Acoff received the T. Morris Hackney Endowed Faculty Leadership Award. She was named a Fellow of the Southeastern Conference Academic Leadership Development Program.
“When I was informed that I was selected as the inaugural recipient of the 2014 Ellen Swallow Richards Diversity Award, I was speechless. I was honored just to be nominated for this award and all that it represents,” said Acoff. “Almost two decades ago, I made it my personal mission to do whatever I can to increase diversity in materials science and engineering. The fact that TMS has established this award to recognize an individual who reflects the remarkable pioneering spirit of Ellen Swallow Richards makes me even prouder to call myself a member of TMS.”
Ellen Swallow Richards (1842 – 1911), intrigued by the sciences since she was a child, challenged social standards that blocked women from such pursuits to become the first U.S. professional degreed female scientist (the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT]) and the first female member of TMS’s antecedent organization, American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers (AIME). Among her many accomplishments, she was a metallurgist and is widely recognized as the founder of the field of ecology.
Garry Warren noted that like Ellen Swallow Richards, Acoff had to persevere through personal challenges to achieve her goals.
“Early in her career she lost an important mentor – her mother – but this only seemed to make her more determined to be successful and to set an example for others in her extended family. Fortunately for the materials profession, she found an outlet in helping and mentoring students to overcome their challenges, many of which were similar to those she faced at the outset of her career.”
Formal presentation of the 2014 Ellen Swallow Richards Diversity Award will be made during the banquet at the First TMS Summit on Creating and Sustaining Diversity in the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Professions on Tuesday, July 29, 2014, at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, D.C.
Presentation of this award is supported by a gift to the TMS Foundation from Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Wadsworth. The TMS Foundation is the charitable arm of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, and funds a variety of programs administered by TMS.
Those interested in attending the Summit can find out more about the programming and register online at www.tms.org/diversitysummit.
The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) is a member-driven international professional society dedicated to fostering the exchange of learning and ideas across the entire range of minerals, metals, and materials science and engineering, from minerals processing and primary metals production, to basic research and the advanced applications of materials. Included among its more than 12,000 professional and student members are metallurgical and materials engineers, scientists, researchers, educators, and administrators from more than 70 countries on six continents. For more information on TMS, visit www.tms.org.