During the summer of 2022, many of the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED programs returned to in-person research projects after 2 years of pandemic-related disruption. A total of 272 high school students participated in paid research internships through Project SEED this summer, and almost all these students carried out hands-on laboratory experiments. Programs took place across the US and lasted the traditional 8–10 weeks.
Project SEED appeals to a broad range of student populations. Race and ethnicity demographics for the 2022 cohort were 26% African descent or Black, 26% White, 21% Asian (including Pacific Islanders), 10% “prefer not to say,” 6% Hispanic, 6% mixed race, 4% Native American (including Alaskan Native), and 1% identified with a race or ethnicity that was not listed. The gender demographics were 65% female, 32% male, and 3% nonbinary. At the end of their internships, 95% of Project SEED students agreed or strongly agreed that they were happy that they had participated in the program.
Remote offerings remained.
As a result of lessons learned during the past two summers of only online programs, we introduced some new features to Project SEED this year. These included a centralized virtual orientation for all Project SEED students that complemented the local sites’ onboarding processes. In addition to addressing in one go many common concerns of the hundreds of learners, this centralized approach instilled a sense of community in these future scientific leaders.
ACS staff supporting Project SEED also led significant efforts to reach students through multiple virtual platforms. In these ways, Project SEED stayed true to its roots while expanding its geographical reach.
The Virtual Research Program, an expansion of the Virtual Research Pilot established in summer 2021, was one of these efforts. This program allowed 17 Project SEED students to participate in all-online research projects while working with mentors who were not necessarily in close proximity. For instance, a student in Puerto Rico was guided by a mentor in Michigan. While many of these projects were based in computational chemistry, some Project SEED mentors found creative ways to offer students experimental research projects as well. The Virtual Research Program was a success in 2022 and is expected to continue to grow.
In addition, a Virtual Summer Camp (VSC) was offered to 94 students who were unable to participate in a full Project SEED program. This effort took the highlights of the 2020 and 2021 VSC offerings and compressed the schedule into 2 weeks that comprised an introduction to chemical safety, professional development, and college readiness, and an exploration of careers in chemistry. The students who participated in the VSC would otherwise not have had access to any ACS-related summer programming. We were pleased with the impact of the camp and are excited that 96% of the students responded favorably about their experience with it.
The success of Project SEED alumni provides great inspiration to future cohorts of students. Project SEED strives to keep supporting its alumni even after they complete their high school education. This year, 39 alumni received $5,000 Project SEED scholarships for their freshman year in college, and one alumni received a $5,000 Loconti Scholarship (renewable each year of the recipient’s 4-year degree). In addition, nine previous Project SEED College Scholarship recipients received CIBA Specialty Chemicals Scholarships in 2022, giving them an additional $5,000 per year for the next 3 years of their degree. The committee and Project SEED students are appreciative of and deeply grateful to the donors of scholarships associated with the initiative.
The pandemic forced Project SEED to reevaluate how it connects with potential student researchers, and these efforts have brought student demand for its programs to the highest level ever seen. I therefore strongly encourage you to start a new Project SEED program or expand your offerings. I also encourage our current dedicated coordinators and mentors to consider providing more projects that fit with the Virtual Research Program, as the interest in chemistry research from students who are geographically removed from a local site is also at an all-time high. If we all do this, I expect the Project SEED community to continue making critical and long-lasting impacts on early-career scientists and engineers who are the future of the chemistry enterprise.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.