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Project SEED’s impact continues to grow

C&EN talks to past participants and current coordinators about a mentoring program that has been nurturing young scientists for more than 55 years

by Nina Notman, special to C&EN
May 4, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 14


A smiling student stands in front of a poster alongside a large mascot mole wearing a lab coat.
Credit: Courtesy of Don Warner
Sydney Walker, a Project SEED student at Boise State University, met American Chemical Society mascot Meg A. Mole while presenting her research at the Sci-Mix poster session at ACS Fall 2019 in San Diego.

Research laboratories across the US are preparing to host the 2024 cohort of Project SEED students. Since its inception in 1968, this American Chemical Society summer program has enabled around 13,500 high school students from lower socioeconomic groups to undertake research in academic, industry, and government labs.

A smiling student wearing safety glasses, a lab coat, and gloves leans into a fume cupboard.
Credit: Courtesy of Don Warner
Galib Grbic’, a Project SEED student at Boise State University in 2022 and 2023, tested alternative electrode materials for lithium-ion coin-cell battery systems.

In summer 2024, students at host institutions such as Boise State University will link into a long legacy and spend 8–10 weeks working full-time on cutting-edge research projects alongside their mentors’ research teams. “It really is a real-life experience of what it’s like to be a scientist,” says Sara Alsaifi, who carried out organic synthesis in Eric Brown’s lab at Boise State as a Project SEED student in 2019. “It gave me a reality check of what it’s like to be involved in research and the skills that I would need. Getting that perspective in high school is really rare.”

“My project was a proof-of-concept colorimetric DNA detection system that was based on the optical density properties of gold nanoparticles,” says Samantha Ward, who completed Project SEED placements with Jeunghoon Lee at Boise State in 2013 and 2014. Galib Grbic’ was also a Project SEED student at Boise State and worked in Claire Xiong’s lab in the summers of 2022 and 2023. “I was studying alternative materials for electrodes in the typical lithium-ion coin-cell battery systems, specifically niobium oxide,” he says. This work was recently published in ACS Nanoscience Au with Grbic’ listed as a coauthor.

A group of eleven smiling students stand in front of a large silver statue in the shape of a capital letter B.
Credit: Courtesy of Don Warner
The 2023 Boise State University Project SEED students stand in front of the B sculpture on campus.

Project SEED students learn professional skills in addition to technical ones. Among these are time management, teamwork, and research presentation skills. “We had weekly meetings where we were expected to present our results to the other students in the program as well as some PhD students and other professors,” Alsaifi says.

Participants in Project SEED are often given the opportunity to present their science to a wider audience. Ajay Mallia, the Project SEED coordinator for the ACS Georgia Section, for example, encourages students to participate in local science fairs, to take part in Project SEED symposiums at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the ACS, and to present posters at ACS Fall meetings.

A group of six people stand together in a lab, smiling.
Credit: Rodman Reilly, Georgia Gwinnett College
Each summer the chemistry department at Georgia Gwinnett College hosts high school students through the Project SEED program. This is the 2023 cohort with Project SEED coordinator Ajay Mallia (back row, left) and an undergraduate student mentor (back row, right).

ACS staff also organize a centralized online induction and a series of webinars for Project SEED students. “This helps the high school students become more familiar with the American Chemical Society as a whole and the international community of chemists,” says Don Warner, the Project SEED coordinator at Boise State. Topics covered in the webinars include personal and chemical safety, résumé building, career exploration, college readiness, and mental health and wellness.

Project SEED is often the first experience students have of doing research and also of being on a university campus, at an industrial site, or at a government facility. As a result, many Project SEED students report feeling better informed about career options after the program. Prior to her Project SEED placement, Ward had planned to select a major in the humanities, but the experience inspired her to choose science. “I got my degree in biology,” she explains. Ward is currently pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology. While some students leave the program convinced that science is the path for them, others leave certain it isn’t. “That’s also really important, as they can pursue what it is they’re actually interested in,” Alsaifi says.

Participating in Project SEED also gives students an edge when applying to colleges. “It’s something that they can put on their résumé and talk about when they apply to colleges,” Warner says. These summer research experiences can also smooth the transition from high school to college for many. “I felt like I had this head start and exposure that not a lot of people were given the opportunity to have,” says Andrea Nguyen, who was a Project SEED student in Lee’s Boise State lab in 2016 and 2017. “My lab reports and posters in college were stellar [due to] the skills I learned at Project SEED in high school.”

Students usually learn about Project SEED from their high school chemistry teachers. “Because I’m a first-generation, low-income student . . . a paid fellowship performing hands-on laboratory work, having networking exposures, and learning through posters were huge opportunities for me,” Nguyen says. Project SEED students receive a stipend—the amount will be $4,000 in 2024. Warner says that the stipend is crucial for enabling many students from families with fewer economic resources to participate. Many such students need to earn money over the summer to help support their families, he says. Project SEED also offers scholarships to help some of the program’s graduates fund their undergraduate education.

The impact of a high school student participating in Project SEED can have a ripple effect. Students’ families are encouraged to engage with Project SEED mentors. It’s a good way to build connections between different communities in society, Mallia says. Other students from the participants’ schools and their younger family members are encouraged to apply. Before Grbic’ worked in Xiong’s lab, for example, three of his older siblings had participated in Project SEED.

Members of Project SEED mentors’ research teams can also benefit from having a high school student in their labs for the summer. “It’s part of good professional development to provide opportunities for your undergraduate and graduate research students to mentor others. That’s something that [they can] also put on their résumé,” Warner says.

Warner is keen to emphasize that being a mentor for the program is not as time consuming as many people assume. “If you have a decent-sized lab, it’s not really that difficult to host a student,” he says. Mallia says that being a coordinator for a local Project SEED summer program is more work, but it is still very rewarding. Both he and Warner have been coordinators for the program for more than a decade. “The coordinator’s job is to make sure that the program is running efficiently,” Mallia says. The job includes selecting mentors, interviewing students, and organizing networking and other opportunities for students. Project SEED coordinators are also supported by a team of ACS staff and the national Committee on Project SEED.

Find out more about Project SEED; how to get involved as a mentor, coordinator, or participant; and how to donate to the program at

Nina Notman is a freelance writer based in Salisbury, England.


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