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Project Seed plants interest in science careers in local students

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 29, 2009 - Marcel Douglas has high expectations. Once he graduates from high school, he plans to study psychology and then attend medical school. He wants to study neuroscience, like Dr. Benjamin Carson, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Carson is known for his surgeries to separate twins conjoined at the head.

Douglas, a senior at Metro High School who lives in north St. Louis, is taking a big step forward by participating in an eight-week lab internship at University of Missouri - St. Louis through a program called Project Seed. The program is for disadvantaged high school students who have completed basic chemistry.

Douglas is one of three Project Seed students this summer. "The goal is to promote these students to go to college and consider a career in science," said Keith Stine, a professor at UMSL and St. Louis Project SEED coordinator.

The American Chemical Society sponsors the program, and local universities, research labs and government facilities host the students. The students conduct research with professors, with help from undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students. At the end of the summer, they write a report on their work and what they've learned.

Douglas welcomed the opportunity that Project SEED offered him. "I live in a neighborhood where crime is prominent, and bad influences are always around," he said. "The only way out is to go to school and get an education."

Douglas ended his junior year with a 3.4 GPA, and received As in his science classes: biology; anatomy and physiology. He looks forward to AP Physics and Biology-2 in his senior year. Douglas was nominated by his science teacher, Les Nagy. He works with Professor Alicia Beatty on "the synthesis and characterization of clay mimics."

Gabriel Hernandez, a senior at Metro High School, is studying with Professor Stephen Holmes on "synthesis, structural and magnetic characterization of coordination complexes." Hernandez makes magnetic molecules that will be used as starting materials in other projects. He was also nominated to Project SEED by Nagy.

Carol Kelly, Arriana Hayes' chemistry teacher at University City High School, recommended her. Arriana is working -- also with Beatty -- on a chemical research project called "synthesis and characterization of metal halide clusters and nanoparticles." Hayes is considering attending Washington University or the University of Missouri - Kansas City to study pharmacy.

"I like the fact that there's a lot of hands-on working because normally my high school just reads. You hear about it, but you understand it a lot better once you see it," Hayes said.

Douglas and Hayes work with different molecules and the structures that can be made with them.

Beatty explained: "We use molecules as building blocks for making structures. So if we change the molecule, how do we change the structure?"

Students receive a $2,800 fellowship for their first summer in the program. If they return to the program for a second summer, they receive a $3,000 fellowship. Stine enlists the help of local high school teachers to find nominate students. Funding comes from the American Chemical Society, along with some grants from professors. Both Holmes and Beatty are using some grant money to fund projects.

Mentors of Project SEED aren't paid for their work from the ACS. Even so, "it's a good experience for me," said Jeff Withers, a graduate student working with Hernandez in the lab. "I want to do this some day. I want to work at an undergraduate institution and do research and supervise undergraduate and high school kids."

Sarah Scully, an intern at the Beacon, is a student at the University of Missouri in Columbia. 

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