Reg Rogers should be dead.
He was involved in an automobile accident with an 18-wheeler about 20 years ago and, as he tells it, was anticipated dead on arrival. But after 14 hours of surgery, he survived.
The mindset of a survivor informs his life’s work as a researcher and educator, currently with the Mizzou Biomedical, Biological & Chemical Engineering Department. And his drive to pass on what he’s learned to future generations of engineers from all backgrounds recently earned him the Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences from the American Chemical Society for the Northeast Region.
“I’m living my second chance right now,” said Rogers, who recently joined MU after serving on the faculty at the Rochester Institute of Technology. “I’m doing what I’m called to do — helping these young adults understand that life can end with the snap of a finger, and you need to do what you can to enjoy it.”
The Israel Award “recognizes individuals and/or institutions who have advanced diversity in the chemical sciences and significantly stimulated or fostered activities that promote inclusiveness within the region.” Rogers’ selection recognized the work he did in support of underrepresented minorities and the deaf/hard of hearing during his time at RIT.
“When they see someone who looks like them who actually has done it, their mindset changes. We know the college years are the most important years to make an impression and build the understanding that you can do what you set out to do and not just quit to quit,” Rogers explained.
Rogers’ philosophy is simple, pointed and effective. It’s all about relationships, getting students to open up and break out of their comfort zone while learning how to become independent adults with a strong foundation. It starts with talking about course work or lab results, then slowly shifts to discussions about life. It’s a philosophy that’s worked with countless students as well as two organizations Rogers continues to do substantial work with — Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity and Theta Chi Fraternity.
“We’re in this together. I’m here to lead; I’m not here to demand that they learn,” he said.
“Diversity to me is everyone. I don’t care what the color of your skin is. A lot of students struggle, and my goal is to say, ‘Hey, let’s get going.’ I don’t fix their problems for them. I give them guidance towards how to fix their problems, but they are going to fix them.
Rogers said he’s excited to start building those same kinds of relationships at Mizzou, and was both shocked and honored to earn the Israel Award. But he sees it not as an endpoint, but a stepping stone.
“It’s about spreading your wings. That award up there says that we’re doing something right, that we’re moving in the right direction, but we have to stay the course,” he explained.