This summer, three Des Moines high school students in Iowa State University’s Science Bound program had a unique opportunity to nurture their interest in chemistry.
Through the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED – a science program that increases exposure to science careers for high school juniors and seniors from groups that historically have limited opportunities –Lincoln High School students Abi Contreras, Fatima Jalloh and Luis Martinez worked in ISU laboratories for eight weeks this summer. The teenagers learned what it is like to be a chemist while also gaining experiences that will help them excel in their upcoming classes.
“It’s a lot different than science courses you might take in high school,” said Martinez, who participated in the program for a second consecutive summer. “Those labs and experiments are designed to almost always work. Here, a lot of times you might fail, but you’ll realize that if you change one or two things, you might get a better yield or get a reaction to work.”
All three students are part of Science Bound – an ISU pre-college program designed to increase the number of ethnically diverse Iowa students pursuing ASTEM (agricultural, scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics) degrees. Project SEED fosters the interest of Science Bound students in the sciences through laboratory research while also increasing their scientific confidence.
The Lincoln High School students worked under the guidance of ISU Chemistry professors Javier Vela, Emily Smith and Malika Jeffries-EL. In addition to the professors, Contreras, Jalloh and Martinez also had graduate students as mentors. Project SEED’s mentors help the students develop laboratory, written and oral skills as they conduct scientific research. Mentors also provide guidance, encouragement and recommendations for college and scholarships.
Vela has taught students through Project SEED for the past four years. This was the second year for Smith and Jeffries-EL. Project SEED is a national program, but ISU hosts the only chapter in Iowa.
“There are always a lot of students interested,” said Vela, an ISU Professor of Chemistry and Center for Catalysis (CCAT) member. “It would be nice if we could expand it beyond Iowa State to the University of Iowa or University of Northern Iowa.”
The students worked on projects with a wide-range of applications including the creation of solar cells and increasing the speed of data storage in electronics.
“These types of experiences, which provide students with opportunities to work on research with real-world implications, are critical to ensuring that today’s youth understand the role they can play in ASTEM,” said Connie Hargrave, Science Bound Director and Professor of Education.
Contreras, Jalloh and Martinez confirmed that Project SEED helped them gain a better understanding of what it means to have a career in science.
“I wanted to try the major I’m thinking about going into,” said Contreras. “I wanted to know about the biotech field.”
In addition, the Science Bound students gain the added benefit of bringing their experiences from Project SEED to their high school courses. This is what Martinez found after working in an ISU lab last summer.
“This program really helped me in my AP Chemistry class,” said Martinez. “For every lab, I didn’t worry about anything. I would get there and I would know exactly what to do. A lot of the students have problems with lab write-ups, but that was a breeze because I was already used to it.”
These benefits are exactly what Science Bound is looking for their students to receive from summer programs.
“We’re excited to know these opportunities are helping students now,” said Hargrave, “but we are also confident they will help them develop into tomorrow’s ASTEM leaders.”