As Richmond High students delivered their end-of-summer presentations on Tuesday, chemistry teacher Mr. Hung Pham became emotional.
In that moment, students became the teacher, he said.
“I got teary eyed seeing them using these words I knew of that were industry-based. Suddenly, they were teaching me about them,” Mr. Pham said. “It’s what it’s all about. You do the work as a teacher, day in and day out, the bags under the eyes, I think its experiences like this that make it all worth it.”
What Mr. Pham experienced was the significant leaps local students make after participating in Project SEED, a 9-week, paid summer internship program. Funded in part by Chevron, in partnership with the American Chemical Society, the program places disadvantaged high school students with a knack for the sciences into professional laboratories. The students work alongside mentors and conduct actual research in the labs where they intern.
The Chevron Richmond Technology Center accepts Project SEED interns every year, hosting eight this summer – Richmond High students Jose Ticas, Marco Mata, Diana Martinez, Samantha Rivero, Carlos Trujillo, Javier Garcia, and Steve Flores Ramirez, and De Anza High student Gladys Nava.
Other participating students were offered internships by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, universities and other local labs.
The program provides invaluable experiences to science-minded students who may not have access to mentors in the field. Over 10,000 high school students across the country have benefited from Project SEED, which this year celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“Students in this area really experience what it’s like to be a scientist,” said Elaine Yamaguchi, a retired Chevron employee who helps run the program regionally. “[At Chevron], they learn all aspects of chemistry related to the petroleum industry.”
It’s not just about benefiting students but ensuring the students can help their scientist mentors be more productive, said Yamaguchi.
Students describe the experience as mind-opening.
“At first, I didn’t know what career I wanted to pursue, but I knew it was something in science,” said Marco Mata, who just graduated and is headed to UC Merced in the fall. “I never thought I’d get a chance to work in a professional laboratory.”
Some schools don’t have funds for an advanced laboratory, said Diana Martinez.
“It was great being in the lab; you meet people you would never have met and learn things you would learn way past college,” Martinez said. This completely changes how I want my future to be, what I want to do.”
Both Mata and Martinez say they want to pursue chemistry careers.
To be eligible for Project SEED, students must have completed high school chemistry and received a recommendation from their chemistry teacher. They are then placed in professional labs during the summer to perform meaningful scientific research under the guidance of an experienced mentor.
For more information about the program, click here.