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Businesses Partner with Chemistry Program for High Schoolers at DU

Several local businesses have partnered with Duquesne University to support a program that provides research opportunities to outstanding local high school students.

Project SEED, which is in its fourth year at Duquesne, exposes economically disadvantaged students high school students to hands-on research as they work one-on-one with faculty and mentors at Duquesne. The program operates under the guidelines of the American Chemical Society, but depends mainly on donations from local companies, said Dr. Jennifer Aitken, project coordinator and assistant professor of chemistry.

Among the firms participating in the program are the Pittsburgh-area companies PPG Industries, R.J. Lee Group, Acusis, Wal-Mart and Westinghouse. As well as being donors, these companies and others, such as Ferro in Washington, Pa., and U.S. Steel Research in Munhall, welcome Project SEED students on site visits. Organizations such as the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh also support the project.

Through their participation, these companies are helping to nurture and develop a new generation of scientists, said Josh Lucas, assistant coordinator for Project SEED at DU.

“Students do real research projects; we don’t give them simple things to do, like washing glassware,” Aitken said. “This year, they are each working on their own cutting-edge research projects under the supervision of their faculty mentors.”

For instance, Tristan Stagger of Bloomfield, a student at Central Catholic High School and a second-year Project SEED participant, is examining a more energy-efficient way to prepare inter-metallic compounds, which can be utilized in solders and as superconductors, using a microwave.

Chris Sidun of McKees Rocks, a Sto-Rox High School student, is working on computational chemistry problem, studying protein-drug interactions that could be important to the pharmaceutical industry.

Stagger and Sidun will present posters on their work at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting Aug. 19-21.

“Project SEED gives these kids lots of opportunities they’d never get in their home school districts,” said Lucas.

Students, who receive stipends for their work, also have opportunity to compete for $5,000 college scholarships; students from the Duquesne program have won scholarships for the last two years.

The eight-week program, which runs through Aug. 10, puts students in the lab or in the field Monday through Friday, eight hours a day.

“The key is they get in–depth experience,” Aitken said. “They learn how to use equipment that some undergraduates don’t even get to use. They make contacts within the field by participating on the field trips, and they have the opportunity to gain financial aid.”

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.