Local youth intern at Chevron labs

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Richmond High students Andrea Melendez (left) and Emily Guerrero were Project SEED interns at the Chevron Richmond Technology Center this past summer.

What was the first job you ever had?

Try to top Emily Guerrero’s response. The 16-year-old Richmond High junior spent this past summer in the research lab at the Chevron Richmond Technology Center, helping its scientists conduct vital tests on soil samples.

“It was definitely a new experience because I have never had a job before,” Guerrero said. “It was hard to wake up in the morning.”

But when it came to the complex research work she’d accomplished over course of her 9-week summer internship, Guerrero described her first ever job as more fulfilling than difficult.

“I have a mentor, and other people in the lab help me too,” she said. “They’re friendly.”

Guerrero was among a group of local high school students selected to complete the Project SEED paid summer internship, which is funded annually by Chevron and is a program through the American Chemical Society.

The program, held at labs across the nation for more than 50 years, has science-minded teenagers from underserved communities conducting actual research in professional labs.

Among the participating labs is the storied Chevron Richmond Technology Center, located adjacent to the Richmond Refinery campus, where over 170 scientists conduct research in a 1.2 million square foot facility.

The RTC, as it’s called for short, is where the fuel used in the first solo trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh was developed, and where innovations in fuel additives such as Techron are increasingly enhancing engine efficiency and performance while also reducing emissions.

The Project SEED internship invites local students to help in that wide-ranging effort.

Andrea Melendez, also a junior at Richmond High, said her work this summer involved “sample preparation for X-Ray Diffraction technique and impact of preferred orientation and sample displacement on the diffraction pattern.” In layman’s terms, Melendez worked in a lab that analyzes samples of materials in crude oil and transportation fuels to identify impurities within them.

Like all interns, Melendez delivered a presentation on this research at the end of the summer.

And like Guerrero, Melendez said it wasn’t so much the work, but her first experience of having a day job, that proved challenging.

They were among the five interns working 9-hour shifts with breaks, with one day off every other week, at the RTC.

“All the students had the opportunity to work in important aspects of Chevron’s businesses and carried out their assigned tasks very well,” said Dr. Elaine Yamaguchi, the Bay Area Coordinator of Project SEED. “They adapted quickly to their new surroundings and worked productively with their new teammates.”

Melendez admitted there were times she wished she could “sleep all day and be a couch potato.” But she said she was grateful to learn the importance of managing her time and meeting deadlines.

Her mentor, Research Technician Maryam Deldar, praised Melendez as a “very good” intern who was always on-time and ready and willing to learn.

“She was very curious about everything,” Deldar said, adding that Melendez took seriously all rules and procedures, particularly those governing safety.

Melendez said she was impressed by the level of safety training done at Chevron. Before starting the internship, interns take classes and are quizzed on safety procedures. Twice weekly, safety meetings are held, said Melendez.

“They greatly emphasize it around here,” she said.

That emphasis on safety is just one thing about the RTC campus that community members might not know about, Guerrero said.

“I first thought Chevron is you go pump gas, and that was it,” Guerrero said. “I didn’t know there were laboratories, and all the other things they constantly test and create that make the products better.”

Guerrero said she doesn’t plan, at least not yet, on becoming a chemist. In fact, her participation this year was inspired by her sister, a Sonoma State student who was a Project SEED intern three years ago.

But she said the experience taught her valuable lessons about both science and life.

As her father told her, “When you’re grown up, you don’t have a summer.”

 “This is my first summer as an incoming adult,” Guerrero said, adding, “Next summer I’m applying to this again.”

Lil Rahnema, community engagement manager for Chevron Richmond, said Project SEED is a unique opportunity for WCCUSD students.

“It provides young people in our community not only a paid summer internship, with high quality experience and mentoring, but also a sense of what Chevron does beyond gas stations, and the potential career paths they can go down as scientist, with future job opportunities right here in Richmond,” Rahnema said.

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