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Project SEED grows virtual summer camp and expands virtual research portfolio

by Bryan W. Boudouris, chair, ACS Council Committee on Project SEED
October 9, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 37


A photo of Bryan W. Boudouris.
Credit: Purdue University
Bryan W. Boudouris

Despite hopes to the contrary, the global pandemic extended into the summer of 2021. Like last year, the pandemic has impacted the in-person research experiences that are typically associated with the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED program, which is a paid summer internship program for high school students. However, after the summer 2020 program was affected by the pandemic, ACS staff and the Committee on Project SEED reflected on the experience. Their dedication allowed for the growth of the 2021 Project SEED Virtual Summer Camp and piloting of a virtual research program. As a result, Project SEED directly impacted over 350 high school students from 30 states and territories across the nation this summer.

In addition to expanding participation, the Committee on Project SEED relied on a recent publication reviewing the 2020 virtual camp to make important updates to the program for 2021. For instance, the length of the camp was extended by 1 week, students received assignments and feedback after live meetings, and the students delivered engaging presentations based on the work they conducted during the program. These enhancements allowed students to excel in the camp’s primary focus areas of research preparedness, professional etiquette and college readiness, and exposure to chemistry-related career pathways. Importantly, this program had broad appeal across many student populations, with 71% of the participants identifying as female, 31% of the participants identifying as Hispanic, and 20% of the participants identifying as Black/African American.

Project SEED empowers students from diverse backgrounds to become leaders in the chemical enterprise.

Moreover, the dedicated ACS staff, led by Racquel Jemison and Emily Speidell, and the volunteer mentors and coordinators made the experience fun. I was able to view many of the virtual camp sessions that brought together hundreds of students from across the nation, and I witnessed the level of interaction and enthusiasm that these future leaders had for chemistry and the entire STEM enterprise. A subsequent survey confirmed the students’ enthusiasm for the experience, with 98% of respondents indicating they were happy that they participated in the camp and 95% of respondents wanting to learn more about chemistry-related careers. The committee thanks everyone who made the 2021 virtual camp a huge success that positively impacted over 350 potential members of the future chemical enterprise.

The new Virtual Research Pilot (VRP) was established this summer to evaluate how the hands-on research experiences offered before the pandemic could be extended to the virtual environment. In the 2021 pilot, 28 high school students participated in virtual research across 11 industrial and academic Project SEED sites. These projects were 6 to 8 weeks in length, and they offered a summer experience that was as close to in-person research as was possible during the pandemic. Example projects included remotely analyzing experimental data collected by senior in-person researchers, performing computational chemistry calculations, and creating detailed literature reviews for senior researchers. The diverse group of students who participated in the VRP presented their results at the undergraduate poster session at the ACS Fall 2021 meeting. The VRP students delivered excellent presentations at this event and gave high-quality answers to questions from attendees. Additionally, the students who participated in the effort enjoyed their experience. Therefore, we anticipate being able to extend the VRP as part of future Project SEED programs, and we will continue to offer this option to students even when it is possible to return to mostly in-person research events. This is especially true for students who are not near in-person Project SEED sites.

The Project SEED Committee was able to support alumni of the program by awarding 37 one-time scholarships worth $5,000 each, as well as one $5,000 Loconti Scholarship that will be renewable over the course of a 4-year degree. Additionally, three previous Project SEED Scholarship recipients received CIBA Scholarships, which provide each awardee with an additional $5,000 per year for three more years. We hope that this continued support of Project SEED alumni allows for more success stories such as that of David Chavez. After earning a PhD, David has become a recognized leader in the design and synthesis of energetic materials, and he was recently recognized as a fellow of the American Chemical Society. This is just a single example of how Project SEED empowers students from diverse backgrounds to become leaders in the chemical enterprise.

The logo for the ACS Project SEED Virtual Summer Camp.
Credit: American Chemical Society

As we look to the future, we aim to bring the Project SEED program back to its in-person research focus. However, we learned valuable lessons, implemented important tools, and developed new realities during the pandemic. We now envision extending the reach of the Project SEED program to impact more students from broad backgrounds who have keen interests in pursuing chemistry-related educational and career objectives.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


This story was updated on Oct. 15, 2021, to correct the amount of the Loconti Scholarship awarded by the Project SEED Committee. The scholarship was for $5,000, not $20,000.



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