If you have ever been a mentor or a project coordinator, or heard testimony by a high school student who has participated in the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED program, you know that Project SEED offers an invaluable experience for its participants.
Through the program, students who are economically disadvantaged have the opportunity to spend eight to 10 weeks in a research environment surrounded by other students or scientists with similar interests. And they receive encouragement by a mentor dedicated to their success.
The ACS Committee on Project SEED routinely administers an exit survey at the end of the summer program; however, since 1996, it has not conducted a longitudinal survey to more objectively assess the long-term impact of Project SEED on its participants.
In late 2016, the committee conducted a survey of Project SEED college scholarship recipients from 2001 to 2016. Of the 322 current and former students contacted, 116 (36%) completed the survey. Of the respondents, 29% identified as male and 70% as female, and they encompassed a variety of ethnic groups, the majority of which (63%) were Hispanic/Latino or Asian. Ninety-six percent of respondents rated the Project SEED program as either very valuable or extremely valuable.
Among other topics, the survey evaluated what role participation in Project SEED played in a student’s decision to go to college and to obtain a college degree, what benefits the program provided to the participants, and what influence the mentor had on a student’s future career decisions.
Over 90% of the respondents stated that Project SEED helped them develop professional skills—including written and oral communication skills—develop technical abilities, and strengthen their self-confidence.
Survey results show that the program has a significant impact on students’ decision to attend and complete college. Sixty-one percent of respondents rated their participation in the program as either very or extremely influential in their decision to attend college, 81% were influenced in their choice of major, 70% in pursuing a career in a chemistry-related field, and 63% in their ability to complete an undergraduate degree.
In addition to the positive impact on furthering education, the Project SEED experience also provides encouragement and opportunities to pursue a career in the sciences. Most of the participants reported that the top benefits of the program were to encourage them to consider a science-related career (86%), to provide opportunities to conduct research in the chemical sciences (84%), and to provide a network of opportunities and access to chemists that would not have been available otherwise (72%).
The survey confirms that mentors are very influential in shaping future career decisions. Sixty-four percent of respondents rated their mentor as very or extremely influential in improving their academic achievement, 70% acknowledged that their mentor encouraged their interest in the chemical sciences or the pursuit of a chemistry-related career, and 78% recognized the mentor for teaching new skills. Over 90% rated their experience with the mentor as satisfactory and stated that the highest impact of the mentors on their academic career was to improve their research skills.
The survey also provides insights into the level of degree achieved and the field of study pursued in the undergraduate degree. Thirty-four percent of respondents achieved a B.A./B.S., 9% received an M.A./M.S. or other graduate degree, 2% received a Ph.D., and 1% received an M.D. Of those who received a bachelor’s degree, 18% majored in biochemistry or biophysics, 16% in chemistry, 5% in chemical engineering, and 22% in other sciences; 54% are still pursuing their undergraduate degree.
The survey also confirms that the Project SEED programs have the desired financial impact on participants. Ninety-two percent responded that the college scholarship helped them have fewer financial worries in college, and 61% indicated that it allowed them to focus more in their classes. “I believe that a big factor was having that stipend that allowed me to have some starter money for college and to help my household out,” noted one of the survey respondents.
Overall, the results of the survey indubitably speak to the powerful impact that Project SEED has on the lives of many young people, opening doors to an education that would not otherwise be accessible. The committee continues to work hard to ensure that programs are available throughout the nation and its territories, new mentors are recruited, and resources are available to support the fellowships.
Please support Project SEED with a generous donation. The program will be celebrating its 50th anniversary at the fall ACS national meeting in Boston in 2018. As one of the respondents to our survey wrote: “Project SEED exposed me to science and research in a way I never could have through my public school science curriculum. I could, for the first time, really see myself studying chemical engineering because of Project SEED. The scientists I met served as my greatest role models, and my mentor is still a lifelong friend.”
Your donation could make a difference in the life of a young person.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.