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Careers

Project SEED gears up for its 50th anniversary

by Anna Cavinato, Chair, ACS Committee on Project Seed
August 8, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 32

Credit: Gregory Van Patten
Project SEED students Edgar Lozano (left) and Helene Hamo are conducting research at Middle Tennessee State University.

After 48 years, Project SEED continues to impact the lives of young people across the U.S. The program was established by the American Chemical Society in 1968 to provide opportunities for economically disadvantaged high school students to conduct research with a scientist mentor in academic, industrial, or government research laboratories. Students receive a Summer I fellowship in their first year and can return for a Summer II fellowship the following summer. They also receive career counseling and a chance to experience what it means to conduct hands-on research under the guidance of a practicing professional. For many students, this is a life-changing experience. Over the years, more than 10,000 students have participated in the program.

Anna Cavinato
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Credit: Gabriella Rodriguez
Credit: Gabriella Rodriguez

By this summer, Project SEED will have placed nearly 400 high school students in more than 140 laboratories across the U.S., where they conduct research under the supervision of volunteer scientists in 38 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Two of these students are incoming seniors Helene Hamo and Edgar Lozano, who are doing research at Middle Tennessee State University, under the supervision of P. Gregory Van Patten. The team is investigating and making new types of quantum dots, which have been identified as candidates in next-generation solar cells, lasers, and other devices.

Van Patten has served as a mentor for Project SEED students since 2013, and he strongly believes in the impact that the program has on its participants. “The practice of science is not a classroom endeavor, so I believe it’s critical to get interested students involved in the research laboratory as soon as possible,” he says.

Samsam Dirie, who is currently a Summer II student and a 2016 ACS Scholar, is doing her research at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, under the guidance of Philippe Buhlmann. “I really appreciate this program immensely,” Samsam wrote in a survey that students take at the end of the summer program to evaluate their experience. “It’s super refreshing to work in an academic lab at a research university as a high schooler. At first, I thought my voice and experiment would be disregarded because of my immaturity to research, but once I presented on my work everyone was eager to learn about new findings, from professors, to undergrads, to postdocs. It’s more collaborative and inclusive than I expected it to be.” This fall, Samsam will pursue a degree in chemical physics at Tufts University.

Early research experiences such as those offered by Project SEED not only provide the opportunity to explore science careers but, most important, help build confidence and open the door for students who might otherwise not go on to college.

Carlos Huang is a testament of such a life-changing experience. A 2015 Project SEED College Scholar and 2016 ACS Scholar winner, Carlos did his research under the guidance of Carlos Cabrera and José Prieto at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He is now entering his sophomore year at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, pursuing a degree in chemical engineering. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity filled with many great experiences and lessons,” Carlos states. “Thanks to the program and everyone who’s a part of it because you help promote education in an interesting and fun way. Props to everyone.”

As the 50th anniversary of Project SEED in 2018 approaches, the ACS Committee on Project SEED is starting to gear up for this special celebration and has set the ambitious goal of continuing to expand to more states and add programs to states that only have one program. The committee is working hard to promote the program across the U.S. and its territories and find connections in states where the program is not yet established.

Of course, for Project SEED to continue to expand and offer educational opportunities for high school students across the U.S., more coordinators and mentors are needed, and more funding is necessary to support the programs. We need your help to publicize the program and recruit new mentors and coordinators. For information on how to host a Project SEED program and recommendations for seeking funds, visit www.acs.org/projectseed.

The committee also hopes to count on your generous support. Please donate to Project SEED when renewing your ACS membership and support our fund-raising efforts. Even a small contribution will make a difference!

If you would like to learn more about Project SEED and how you can help with its geographic expansion goal, please attend the committee’s open meeting on Sunday, Aug. 21, from 8 to 9 AM at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Hotel, Room 305. The committee looks forward to working with you to provide great educational opportunities to students across all 50 states.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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