Kennedy High graduate Nancy Ng is a chemical engineering major at UC Davis.
If somehow that fact alone fails to impress, consider that the freshman recently became one of 30 science students in the nation — and the first ever from the West Contra Costa Unified School District — to win the $5,000 Project SEED scholarship from the American Chemical Society.
Project SEED is a nine-week-long, full-time internship program for budding young chemists who live in economically disadvantaged areas. To be eligible, 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.
In the summer after her junior year, Project SEED placed Ng at Libby Labs, a cosmetics company, after the teen insisted she was old enough to handle the work. She handled it so well that the following summer, at age 16, she was placed at the Chevron Richmond Technology Center, where she studied tribology (soot abrasiveness). Chevron is a major contributor and participant in Project SEED both locally and nationally.
“By then, I knew she was very good,” said Dr. Elaine Yamaguchi, the Bay Area coordinator of Project SEED. “I can only place really promising students at Chevron [which has] the most rigorous requirements of all our participating labs, such as drug and alcohol testing, followed by extensive safety training.”
Jonathan Moore, one of her mentors at Chevron, praised Ng’s desire to “understand concepts rather than just learn procedures.”
“Every time a student comes into our lab we hope it will be a learning opportunity and not just something to boost a resume,” Moore said. “Nancy really took advantage of the learning opportunity.”
More challenging than earning a spot with Chevron is winning a scholarship in a national competition based upon your work during the internship, Yamaguchi said.
Two summers of Project SEED experience, along with stellar recommendations from Chevron and Libby Labs, were keys to her winning the scholarship.
“There are about 30 scholarships nationwide, but I can’t think of any other WCCUSD SEED student in my 3.5 decades of coordinating SEED that can come close to Nancy’s caliber,” Yamaguchi said. “I have seen hundreds of students by now.”
Yamaguchi added that programs such as SEED are incredibly important for bright students like Ng who reside in economically disadvantaged areas where schools struggle to access tools and resources.
“This is why programs such as SEED are so important for these students,” she said. “SEED supplements their chemistry learning so they are college-ready on day one.”