Mar 23

Planting the SEED for future STEM success

In the late 1960s, when racial tensions, segregation, and a dearth of opportunities for minorities were sweeping the nation, the American Chemical Society (ACS) saw an opportunity for engagement and investment in underserved populations. So, in 1968, seeing that not only was this population at risk for missing out on educational and employment opportunities in the sciences but that industry had no access to this pool of potential candidates, ACS launched Project SEED. Now dubbed Scientific Education Experiences for the Disadvantaged, Project SEED provides summer research experiences to over 350 students in 40 states interested in careers in chemistry-related industries.

SEED has a long history in North Carolina, placing students in labs throughout the state. In 1994, a science professor named Kenneth Cutler launched Project SEED in the state with the dream that students in his region would continue their education beyond high school to a terminal degree in a STEM field. Michael Cherry, a long-time and current mentor, has been with SEED since its inception and notes that the relationship built between these students and their mentors is unique and special. Working side by side in laboratory settings builds a special bond and, says Cherry, “These relationships are so strong that at the conclusion of the experience, mentors gladly write college recommendation letters and hope that when these students graduate, they will return to the labs to continue their shared work.”

While students are invited from all over the United States, Mr. Cherry’s program mostly places students at labs at Duke, UNC, NC State, NCCU, and Campbell University. Mentors—professors and scientists—provide a research topic to their students and under the supervision of the mentors and lab assistants, the students do extensive research and complete the projects. For some, the work they completed in these summer programs resulted in their names being published alongside their mentors in prominent journals. The work is challenging but provides invaluable college prep, professional development, preparation for working in a lab, and exposure to STEM fields they might otherwise not receive.

The positive impact of these summer experiences is clear, not just demonstrated by the long list of successes graduates have experienced, but because they are still engaged in SEED long after their mentorships. “We have many students,” says Cherry, “who come back year after year to talk to students interested in applying to Project SEED. As the program has developed, students continue to come back to say, ‘Thank you.’ I’d call that success.”

The mission of Project SEED is to provide sustained research, learning, and growth opportunities for high school students with diverse identifies and socioeconomic background, empowering them to advance and enrich STEM fields, particularly chemical industries. Michael Cherry says with pride that SEED is doing that and more. “The type of experiments and projects these students work on are things that affect society. These kids are working hard to make the world a better place.”

To find a Project SEED location near you and to learn more about applying, donating, or becoming a mentor, visit this link.

In our next edition, we will meet Chelsea Sumner, one of SEED’s esteemed graduates and enthusiastic supporters.


SEED Stars

So many of the SEED participants have gone on to great things—Masters degrees in biology, chemistry, and public policy; M.D.s and PharmDs; and even an MBA from MIT—and dozens have sought to “pay it forward” as they pursued PhDs and teaching careers. Among some of these bright stars are these SEED success stories:

A UNC Chapel Hill Graduate School student completed a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology and went on not only to teach at Harvard University but to serve as the Lead Investigator for the Moderna vaccine at the National Institute of Health.

  • A Campbell and UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy grad obtained her PharmD and was honored with the Eli Lilly Fellowship in Pharmaceutical Project Management.
  • A graduate of both Wake Forest and NC State achieved a PhD in Chemistry and now serves on the leadership team at BASF.
  • A biology student who completed her M.D. at Morehouse School of Medicine is now an M.D. of Pediatrics at Loudoun Pediatric Associates.
  • A graduate of NC A&T is now a mechanical/design engineer at Boeing in Charleston.


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