Carnegie Mellon University

Lea Veras

Lea Veras

Chemistry graduate student, Leadership Development Award recipient


Volunteering Leads Chemist to Public Service Career

Lea Veras has always been a planner. Once she knows what she wants, she writes out every step and every deadline as a to-do list for reaching her goal. Such organization was critical to her recently completed Ph.D. on the molecular mechanisms that control the blocking and unblocking of ion channels in NMDA receptors, which are important for memory function. Veras knows that planning is a key part of her personality, but when she participated in the American Chemical Society (ACS)’s Younger Chemists Committee Leadership Development Workshop, she started to see things a little differently.

“I never stopped to think about how I could use those characteristics in my favor,” said Veras, a 2014 graduate with a Ph.D. in chemistry. “Being aware of what you can do makes a huge difference.”

Veras was one of 15 young chemists to receive a Leadership Development Award from the ACS to support her participation in the workshop for emerging leaders. The program is geared toward helping them prepare for leadership opportunities at volunteer organizations and in their professional careers.

Veras is no stranger to taking on leadership roles in a volunteer capacity. While she was a graduate student in Carnegie Mellon’s Chemistry Department, she served as the community outreach chair of the ACS Pittsburgh Section’s Younger Chemists Committee (YCC) in 2012 and chair of the entire committee in 2013. Under her leadership, the YCC organized activities for National Chemistry Week, an annual event in which volunteers reach out to the public, particularly school children, with positive messages about chemistry. Veras also helped plan the first-ever Chemistry Carnival, a community-outreach event that brought more than 150 people to the Mellon Institute to learn about the importance of chemistry in the world.

In addition to Veras’s volunteer work with the YCC, she also volunteered as a translator for a documentary film produced by the Women and Girls Foundation. Called “Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.?”, the film centers on why Brazil has a female president while the United States does not. Veras, who is from Parnaiba, Piaui, Brazil, translated many interviews from Portuguese to English, and eventually became so involved with the project that she took on the role of film coordinator, promoting the film to universities and festivals.

“I realized after listening to all of the interviews and watching this documentary that Brazil did gain a lot in the past few years in terms of gender equality rights, and I felt proud of my country, my own people. At the same time, I saw what’s still missing, and I saw the things that I would like to do for Brazil.”

Veras plans to return to Brazil to begin a career as an Empreendedor Social—someone who works with an organization to come up with solutions to some of the most pressing social problems facing society. Veras’s passions center around science and policy, gender equality and international rights. Her hope is to work for the United Nations in her home country of Brazil.

“Everything that I’ve learned in my experience as YCC chair, with the Women and Girls Foundation, at the ACS leadership workshop and in practice will be useful in these next steps because I do think I’m a better communicator than before. I’m a better leader.”