Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Ronald Hunter, Jr. and the Importance of Diversity

Dr. Ron Hunter holding the Coca-Cola ambassador pin.

What makes a scientist? In his current position, as an Analytical Chemist at The Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Ron Hunter helps achieve and maintain the high-quality products that we have come to expect from the global beverage company. What he brings to the company, however, reaches far beyond his scientific expertise. As a diversity in STEM advocate, a leader and mentor to those around him, a free sample-lover, and an overall achiever, Dr. Hunter brings a distinctive skillset and an unrivaled passion to his scientist role.

Dr. Hunter began his academic journey at Mercer University with a plan to study Spanish. After deciding to pursue a pre-med track, he found that he excelled in his chemistry classes, and shortly thereafter, became a Spanish and Chemistry double major. After graduation, he decided to pursue his PhD in analytical chemistry from Emory University. During his graduate studies, Dr. Hunter was particularly interested in the intersection of chemistry and public health, so upon earning his degree, he went to work in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Fellow. Returning for graduation, he learned of an opportunity at Emory as a post-doctoral research fellow with the Rollins School of Public Health. From there, he became an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Research Chemist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before ending up in his current position with The Coca-Cola Company.

The Coca-Cola Company, the world’s largest beverage company, provides over 200 countries with nearly 3,900 beverage choices. The company, founded in 1886, has its global headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr. Hunter works in the Analytical Services Lab (ASL) for the Americas. “The goal of our lab is to maintain quality by becoming the subject matter experts for the product,” says Dr. Hunter. “So that we can troubleshoot and make sure that the consumers are getting the best product and that the business units are making the product in the best way possible.” Recently, Dr. Hunter has been working to build dairy capabilities for the ASL.

Coca-Cola’s contributions reach beyond the realm of beverages. The company has received numerous awards for diversity and equality, including a 100% rating on the human rights campaign’s corporate equality index for the 11th consecutive year and a ranking among the top 50 companies for diversity by Black Enterprise magazine. These accolades reflect the company’s commitment to its mission statement: “Mirror the richly diverse markets we serve, capitalizing on our inclusive culture to attract, develop, engage, and retain a global talent mix to fuel our competitive advantage.”

Dr. Hunter contributes to this mission by participating in the LGBT, African American, Hispanic, and KOGen multi-generational business resource groups. These groups are designed to cultivate diversity, engage the community, and provide the company with alternative perspectives on marketing, communication, and consumerism. These efforts allow The Coca-Cola Company to connect with specific consumer populations in a way that is more specific and relatable.

In addition to culturally personalized marketing, the company also designs marketing campaigns that traverse cultural boundaries. “The best thing that Coke does, that crosses all diversity lines,” says Dr. Hunter, “is that they’re not selling a product, they really are selling a feeling, they are selling emotions.” #tastethefeeling

Outside of his advocacy work with The Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Hunter also advocates for minority representation in the sciences by participating in the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and serving as a member of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) and the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Recently, Dr. Hunter accepted appointment by the 2018 American Chemical Society President to serve as an Associate to the Committee on Minority Affairs, a joint committee of the Council and Board of Directors, and as a Consultant to the Committee on Membership Affairs, a Standing Committee of the Council, for 2018. To Dr. Hunter, the pursuit of diversity shouldn’t be driven by the desire to meet a certain standard or hiring criteria, but should instead be seen as a requirement for creating an enriched environment in the workplace and engaging the heterogeneous global population.

When reflecting on the decisions and opportunities that got him to where he is today, Dr. Hunter credits experiential variety, unwavering individuality, and strategic serendipity. By remaining flexible and setting himself up for possible opportunities, he found that more opportunities presented themselves. Being diversified in experiences and training has provided him with a myriad of skills and enhanced marketability.

With diversity as a theme throughout his own career, Dr. Hunter encourages current students to be open to a variety of possible career paths and training opportunities. “Do not think of yourself as being all over the place if you have many talents and desires for your career,” says Dr. Hunter. “Do not let anybody dissuade you from being multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary.”

Emory Chemistry at NOBCChE

Emory was well represented at the National Organization for Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers Conference (NOBCChE) last week.

Wallace Derricotte (Graduate Student, Evangelista Group) gave a research talk and received the ACS “Graduate Student Exchange Award” at NOBCChE. The award is a joint program between the American Chemical Society and other chemistry related organizations to provide students of these satellite organizations with travel funds for ACS national and regional conferences.

Keon Reid (Graduate Student, Kindt Group) received a NOBCChE conference award, the “Advancing Science Travel Grant.” The award covers registration and hotel costs for the conference and is intended to encourage graduate students and postdocs to attend NOBCChE in recognition of the integral contributions they make to the conference community. Keon also gave an excellent poster presentation at the conference.

Congratulations, Wallace and Keon!

Additionally, Felicia Fullilove, an Emory Alum of both the Davies and MacBeth groups, served as a speaker on a professional development talk.

Monya Ruffin, Senior Scientist and Director of Community, Diversity, and Outreach in the CCHF Center at Emory, gave a professional development talk on science communication.