Black History Month: An Interview with Thomas H. Epps, III, FNAI


Continuing in our celebration of Black History Month, Thomas H. Epps, III, FNAI of NAI Member Institution the University of Delaware, shares with us what inspired him to become an inventor, the importance of diversity in innovation, and the requirements of retention in mentorship within the innovation and invention ecosystem.

Q. What inspired you to become an inventor?
A. I am a “What If” person, and I am a big fan of the Marvel/Disney series with a similar name. Inspired by my parents, as well as the opportunities to participate in entrepreneurship competitions as an undergraduate student and work in the lab of Prof. Paula Hammond, I have always thought about how to use my knowledge of chemistry and materials to engender positive change in people’s lives through innovation…. very much of… let’s have a hunch; try it; see what happens; learn from it; innovate towards impact.

Q. What is the importance of having diverse and unique perspectives in the innovation and invention ecosystem?
A. Having diverse and unique perspectives helps nucleate creative solutions. For example, what one person views as waste, another person might view as a feedstock or opportunity. This approach has allowed us to pursue fruitful avenues such as generating high-value materials (polymers/biochemical/bioresins) from all sorts of trash, inspired by personnel on the team who are accustomed to reusing everything.

Q. What suggestions do you have on how mentorship could help support attracting, engaging, and retaining diverse perspectives and individuals in the innovation and invention ecosystem?
A. I understand that there are three topics in the question, but I will focus on retention. I think one key challenge is knowing the ‘unwritten rules’. There has been much focus on the ‘attracting’ and ‘engaging’ pieces, but the ‘retention’ piece requires the type of continued confidence-building and informal knowledge generation that is a challenge to translate to a formal course, training, or seminar. I have been lucky to have informal mentors, who have always been willing to share little tips and connections that helped them overcome hurdles or create opportunities.

Read about Dr. Epps’ work here: