This summer, as part of the ACS Project SEED program, more than 400 high school students will undertake chemistry research projects in laboratories across the U.S.
The students, all of whom are from economically disadvantaged households, will receive a fellowship that will allow them to conduct research full-time in academic, industrial, and government laboratories in 38 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The students will work alongside established mentors who will oversee research projects that span all the chemistry subdisciplines. In addition to research, most SEED students will be embedded into a larger scientific community in order to provide opportunities and experiences that will hopefully stimulate interest in the sciences and increase motivation to pursue a scientific career. By the end of the summer, more than 400 dedicated volunteers will have worked to ensure that each Project SEED student had a profound research experience.
Given the large number of high school participants and the large number of volunteers working alongside the SEED students, this will be a truly remarkable summer. However, for Project SEED, this is a normal summer, as it has been for the past 50 years. First established in 1968, the ACS Project SEED program has helped provide research opportunities for more than 10,000 economically disadvantaged high school students. Participants are awarded a $2,500 Summer I fellowship their first year and a $3,000 Summer II fellowship if they return for a second summer of research. SEED alumni are also eligible to apply for one of more than 25 SEED college scholarships offered each year.
Although initially attracted to SEED by the financial compensation, for almost all students the benefits of participation are much more substantial. While the participants’ primary focus is the research project, many laboratories offer activities that aim to promote the students’ development as scientists. SEED students often participate in weekly group meetings, receive training on scientific instrumentation, participate in workshops on the ethical conduct of research and other important topics, and present their research findings at the ACS national meeting. The activities intend to support productive research, enable participants to develop lasting connections, and provide opportunities for education and career exploration.
Studies have shown that engaging students in research is a high-impact educational practice, and participation is known, for example, to increase student retention, students’ content knowledge, and students’ interest in science and engineering careers. By providing transformational research opportunities for individuals still in high school, Project SEED has the opportunity to significantly impact participants’ future educational and career choices.
Project SEED seems to have a lasting, and often life-changing, impact on participants, as demonstrated by a 2016 survey of SEED alumni who had also been awarded a SEED scholarship. When asked about the decision to attend college, 61% of the respondents indicated that Project SEED was “extremely influential” or “very influential.” Of the respondents, 81% indicated that Project SEED was instrumental in their choice of a major in college. Respondents noted that some of the benefits of participating were to “encourage me to consider a science-related career,” “acquire new skills from the SEED mentor,” and “provide me with networking opportunities and access to chemists whom I would not have met otherwise.” (The survey had 116 responses, a 36% response rate.)
The following two quotes from the survey serve as a testament to the importance of Project SEED and the scientists who volunteer to serve as mentors to the high school students. One student stated that the “influence of having an experienced mentor to guide and answer the many questions I had about college and chemistry related major made the most impact in my education and life choices than any other experience I have had.”
Another student remarked that they “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.”
Clearly, the impact that Project SEED has had on so many lives cannot be overstated. As such, the 50th anniversary of the program is an important milestone that deserves recognition and celebration. So, at the ACS national meeting in Boston this fall, be on the lookout for a symposium and reception honoring the program. Current and former participants, mentors, and supporters who represent each of the five decades will be discussing their Project SEED experiences, influences, and historical perspectives.
Finally, Project SEED’s continued success relies on the broader ACS community. The program is continually seeking opportunities to expand and include more high school students. This requires volunteers to serve as research mentors and coordinators. Additionally, we need more funding to support the programs, so we ask that you please consider donating to Project SEED when renewing your ACS membership. Please visit www.acs.org/forward for more information. Thank you for your support.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.