College of Chemistry announces lectureship in honor of professor William Lester

Photo of William Lester
William Lester hopes that this lectureship will give underrepresented students examples of high-achieving scientists who share similar backgrounds.

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UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry established a new lectureship for research from traditionally underrepresented scholars in honor of campus graduate professor William Lester.

Lester is a longtime campus faculty member who joined the chemistry department in 1981 after a long career in academia and the private sector, according to a press release from the College of Chemistry. During his career, he has been awarded multiple honors and has published over 200 papers in his field.

“It became immediately apparent that we would like that lectureship to honor Bill Lester,” said Matthew Francis, the chair of the chemistry department. “As a faculty we’re extremely proud of Bill’s legacy of science, the science that he’s done. We’re also very proud of his legacy for promoting diversity in chemistry and science in general.”

Lester was one of the few Black students to attend a recently integrated school in Chicago, where he said he excelled in chemistry. He received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Chicago on a scholarship. After a short stint at the University of Wisconsin, Lester moved to the Bay Area where he worked at an IBM research laboratory.

Lester now credits his early exposure to science as a major factor in his success in chemistry.

“As I look back, a major benefit is that I was exposed to a lot of this sort of learning very early on,” Lester said. “ I realized I can compete as well as anyone else in the classroom.”

Meetings for the establishment of the lectureship were held this semester, according to Francis. Faculty members, department chairs and student stakeholders decided to establish a lecturer position of equal footing to the existing Lewis Lecturer.

Francis added that the choice of whom to name the lectureship after was clear.

“It wants to showcase cutting edge scientific research that is done by underrepresented scientists, and that’s the primary goal of this,” Francis said. “A secondary goal is to have discussions around this lectureship where people can understand a little bit more what the journey is like for individuals who are underrepresented in science.”

Due to the pandemic, the lectureship timeline is currently unclear as in-person receptions and celebrations are not possible. Francis also added that the choice for the first lecturer has not been made.

Lester hopes that this lectureship will give underrepresented students examples of high-achieving scientists who share similar backgrounds.

“To some extent, I serve as a model for thinking about this kind of direction,” Lester said. “‘Hey Lester did it, so why not me?’”

David Villani is a general assignment reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @davidvillani7.