Awardee Profile - Project SEED

Project SEED

It was a sight not often witnessed at science meetings: 30 or so African American students walking in a row, all dressed in black suits and white shirts or blouses.

The scene: the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The students: participants in the Summer Educational Experience for the Disadvantaged Project—or Project SEED—an educational program run by the American Chemical Society. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund, through our Student Science Enrichment Program, supports a Project SEED chapter in North Carolina, and the string of impressive students at the meeting call this program home base.

The setting of the nation’s capital is appropriate, as the U.S. Congress has proclaimed that science literacy is a critical national priority and that public education has a responsibility to ensure all students are well prepared.

The BWF supported Project SEED initiative offers talented disadvantaged high school students an opportunity to work with scientists in academic, industrial, and governmental laboratories to experience hands-on research. As part of their activities, the students develop scientific posters to describe and present their work at various association meetings across the nation to improve their communication skills and introduce them to the larger world of science.

Project SEED provides students with a comprehensive experience in scientific research, offering instruction on scientific methodology, scientific research, and scientific ethics. Students receive individual mentoring from scientists and learn about careers in chemistry and other science fields. Working in the labs as paid researchers, students put to use a number of experimental techniques and methods.  The program has trained about 120 high school students in North Carolina who eventually will help meet the nation’s need for more people choosing to pursue careers in science and mathematics.

In any successful program, there is a committed person behind the scenes.  Kenneth Cutler, a veteran educator and lecturer at North Carolina Central University, stands behind Project SEED, recruiting students, training them, exposing them to the questions of science, and engaging their parents or caregivers in understanding the value of a career in the sciences. For his work in science education, Mr. Cutler received the National Science Foundation’s 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Secondary Science Teaching, the nation’s highest honor for a K-12 mathematics and science teacher.

Mr. Cutler has been with Project SEED since 1991, and currently coordinates the local section of the program for the American Chemical Society, which developed the program to target underrepresented minorities who historically lag behind other students in science proficiency. During the academic year, students meet for Saturday academies to learn other life skills, such as planning, organizing, testing, and accepting community responsibility.

Mr. Cutler said that past Project SEED students tell him that they simply did not know these types of opportunities existed for them in the scientific field. The experience, he said, gives them the drive and the confidence to purse academically demanding fields, and their laboratory mentors give them support and guidance to ease the process.

Project SEED’s motto is: “If excellence is possible, then good is not enough”—and Mr. Cutler has the statistics to back it up. “Our expectation is to have our students not only go to college, but to gain doctorates,” he said. “We have high expectations. We prepare the students for academic excellence and behavioral excellence. They both go hand in hand.”

In fact, since BWF began supporting Project SEED in 1999, all of its graduating students have gone on to major in science and mathematics in college. Four of the 2005 graduating students received full academic scholarships—and this pattern is representative of past years. Mr. Cutler said his ultimate goal is for every graduating student in the program to receive a full academic scholarship to study science. As it is, the students receive an average of $100,000 in scholarship money to attend college.

By Russ Campbell, BWF communications officer