Foston to lead diversity initiatives in McKelvey School of Engineering

He will chair the school’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Beth Miller 
Marcus Foston

Marcus Foston, associate professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering, has been named director of diversity initiatives for the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

As the director of diversity initiatives, Foston chairs the McKelvey Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and leads the committee in considering all DEI issues relevant to faculty, students and staff.  He also will facilitate associations between the committee and other organizations throughout the university focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Marcus has always been a strong and innovative advocate for not only increasing the diversity of McKelvey, but also in consideration of climate and opportunity, especially for our students,” said Aaron F. Bobick, the James M. McKelvey Professor and dean of the McKelvey School of Engineering.  “I know that as director of diversity initiatives, Marcus will both lead and push, which is the perfect combination of attributes for this role.” 

In his new role, Foston will oversee the working groups within the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which include those focusing on student education and curricula change; bias reporting; faculty and staff education; minority students and postdoctoral researchers; and relationships with K-12 school, alumni and industry. The committee’s recent work has led to the continuation of the Education, Engineering, and Race seminar series, a faculty workshop on "Embedding DEI Within Engineering Courses", and revision of the University Bias Report and Support System for increased transparency on the actions taken when a report is filed. The committee continues to work with the dean to implement its recommendations it has developed over the past year.

Foston will work closely with the dean, department chairs, senior staff and other school leaders, including Jessica Wagenseil, McKelvey’s vice dean of faculty advancement; and with Jay Turner, McKelvey’s vice dean of education.

As a faculty member in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering (EECE), Foston’s research seeks to develop innovative and novel routes to exploit and use lignocellulosic biomass, taking advantage of materials involved in industries such as agriculture, papermaking and forestry products. His work focuses on sustainable conversion of biomass into chemicals using liquid-phase, heterogeneous catalysis; interfacing the catalytic depolymerization of biomass with microbial utilization; and understanding how plant cell respond to mechanical stimulus.

Foston also is faculty fellow in the NSF STC: Center for Engineering Mechanobiology, which seeks to train a new generation of scientists and engineers in the emerging discipline of mechanobiology — specifically, how to use mechanical force to engineer plant cell walls and how plant cell walls respond to mechanical force.

Foston joined EECE in 2012. He earned a doctorate in polymer chemistry in the Material Science and Engineering Department at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. His postdoctoral fellowship was conducted as part of the DOE BioEnergy Science Center and under the guidance of Arthur Ragauskas, a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology. During this period, his research focused on the study of the chemistry, dynamics and mechanism of deconstruction of lignocellulose to form biofuels, biomaterials and biocomposites.

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