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Project SEED Wins National Award for High School Chemistry Program

The American Chemical Society Pittsburgh Section Project SEED Committee, which includes a summer chemistry program at Duquesne University that involves high-achieving, low-income high school students in hands-on research projects, has received the national ChemLuminary Award for the Most Outstanding Project SEED Program in 2007.

The winning Pittsburgh team was chosen as the winning program in the local Project SEED category, with winners announced at the August national American Chemical Society meeting. The committee’s work involves summer chemistry programs at Duquesne and Washington & Jefferson (W&J) College.

“Highlighting this accomplishment not only brings recognition to Duquesne University, but also serves to publicize the Project SEED program so that more people may get involved,” said Dr. Jennifer Aitken, project coordinator and assistant professor of chemistry at Duquesne University. Aitken played a key role in initiating the local program in 2003, along with Dr. Michael Leonard, assistant professor in the chemistry department at W&J.

This was the first time the local committee was nominated, Aitken said. Receiving this recognition this year was particularly meaningful, she said, because this national meeting observed the 40th anniversary of the creation of Project SEED.

“The award will help to bring attention to the program and show current and potential donors what we’re doing, and show high schools how to get involved,” Aitken added, explaining that besides involving the colleges and the American Chemical Society, Project SEED has the backing of many companies, organizations and individuals.

In Pittsburgh, Aitken, Leonard and Tabitha Riggio, chair of the Pittsburgh Project SEED Committee, have created a flourishing Project SEED program with successful alumni who have gone on to college studies. The program’s objective is to encourage economically disadvantaged students to pursue their interest in chemical sciences and expand their education and career outlook.

The positive impact of the program is palpable, Aitken said. “When I called one girl to let her know she was selected for the program, she just screamed like she won the lottery.  This is a life-changing opportunity for them.”

Over the past four years, 15 students have been hosted at Duquesne and three at Washington and Jefferson. Of the total 18 students, five participated in the program for a second year. Of the total over the four years, 67 percent were minority students and 67 percent were female, two groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in the chemical sciences.

Three of the students from the Duquesne program have won Bader Project SEED College Scholarships, which have provided $5,000 to each student majoring in a chemical science for the first year of college.

After completing their summer research, students have presented posters at the national American Chemical Society meetings; two of the past summer’s students have become authors on papers that are either published or pending publication in scientific journals.

Applications for the coming summer program will be available in January, and the selection process will begin in March. To obtain an application, contact Aitken at aitkenj@duq.edu.

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.