Professor Leyte Winfield: Pioneering Diversity and Excellence in STEM

Spelman College | Mar-12-2024

In acknowledgement of scientific excellence and commitment to diversity, four distinguished senior scientists were recently named recipients of the Robert Holland Jr. Award for Research Excellence and Contributions to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. 

Among the 2024 Cottrell awardees is Spelman professor Leyte Winfield, Ph.D., Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics chair and professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

As the world celebrates Women's History Month, Dr. Winfield's recognition is a testament to her dual commitment to advancing scientific knowledge and fostering inclusivity within the STEM landscape. As one of the recipients set to be introduced at the upcoming Cottrell Scholar Conference, Dr. Winfield is a crucial voice in the ongoing dialogue about diversity and equity in the scientific community. The award recognizes her work in drug design and synthesis, particularly in producing tricyclic molecules with potential therapeutic applications against reproductive cancers, which disproportionately impact African Americans; however, her influence extends beyond the laboratory.

Dr. Winfield plays a pivotal role in fostering opportunities for women of African descent and is a staunch advocate for diversity in STEM. Her curricular innovations at Spelman College have positively impacted students from underrepresented groups, leading to national recognition for their research accomplishments.

The eSpelman Cosmetic Science Program Leaves an Imprint

Notably, Dr. Winfield launched the College's eSpelman cosmetic science program, the first of its kind at a primarily undergraduate institution and a Historically Black College and University. This program reflects her commitment to expanding educational horizons and breaking down barriers to science education. 

The students enrolled in the offerings are the biggest winners. Why? They walk away with much more than intellectual jargon. In an interview with Beauty Independent, Dr. Winfield shared what she wants students to walk away with once they complete a certificate in cosmetic science: 

Large Blue Quote LeftI want them to be literate in the terminology around the chemistry related to cosmetics. I want them to feel comfortable negotiating those rooms where conversations are being had. I want them to understand the toxicity of compounds. I want them to understand the renewability of certain natural products that we have access to. And I want them to feel comfortable that, as a creator or as a consumer of these products, they understand exactly what they’re using and exactly what they’re providing to the public," said Dr. Winfield.

Charting New Territory in Chemistry

This month, Spelman announced the expansion of its STEM programming to include a concentration in cosmetic chemistry for those majoring in chemistry, and a minor in cosmetic science for those majoring in other areas. The program, scheduled to be offered in the fall, is the first of its kind at a HBCU and Dr. Winfield worked tirelessly to make the offerings a reality.

"I am excited that we now offer a course of study that connects students' Spelman experience to the beauty and personal care industry. The new major concentration and minor will ensure our students' competitiveness for advanced study and careers in the field,” said Dr. Winfield, 

“I am equally excited that this endeavor positions us to offer a culturally relevant perspective that is needed in the conversation on black hair and skin care and the development of cosmetics," she added.

In addition to her academic contributions, Dr. Winfield serves as an adviser for several National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health-funded initiatives. She is also a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and recently received the Henry C. McBay Outstanding Teacher Award from the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.

The Holland Award, accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize, will not only honor Dr. Winfield's achievements but will also enable her to participate in Cottrell Scholar Collaborative projects aimed at promoting excellence in science education.

Learn More About Dr. Winfield