Science internship influences career decisions


Photo Courtsey Qinliang Zhao

Former student Sereena Nand presents her end project on her research in front of SEED professors, sponsors and other participants.

It isn’t uncommon for a high school senior to still be unsure of what they want to major in college. Often, undergrads will change their major once they discover a new passion or figure out what they want to do.

After completing two summers of Project Seed, a paid program where students study under University of the Pacific professors and conduct their own experiments, Sereena Nand didn’t even have to glance at the “Undeclared Major” box when filing her application to the University of California at Los Angeles.

Nand decided on biochemistry as her major after Project SEED helped her change her mind from majoring in biology. “I wasn’t really sure if that was something I wanted to spend four years of college doing,” Nand said. “I was always interested in science, but (Project SEED) kind of confirmed my interest.”

Over the years, Stagg has provided the most participants to Project SEED, where students spend the summer studying a branch of science and performing their own research in a paid internship.

According to science teacher Bill Lorentz, who distributes applications for the program and also encourages student to apply, students who participate in one summer of Project SEED will earn $2500, tax free, and second-year participants receive $3000.

The summer program is geared towards students who would be considered economically disadvantaged and presents an opportunity for students who are interested in STEM fields to get a “hands-on, comprehensive (and) higher experience” in doing lab work and research, as senior Sierra Turrieta describes it.

“I got to do a lot of lab work,” she said about her experience in the program the past summer. “I got to work with a lot of instruments that we don’t get to use everyday in labs (at Stagg).” In fact, Turrieta says that the lab experience she gained during her summer with Project SEED was the most significant as she now will have the experience in doing more advanced labs while in college. Although the program has influenced her to major in biochemistry, Turrieta is still undecided. “(After participating in SEED,) you have background so when you do get (to college) it’s not so overwhelming,” she said.

Justin Ha, a senior, calls himself a “science guy.” He says he developed his passion while taking Lorentz’s chemistry class. “I wasn’t really good at (chemistry), but I really loved it and loved learning it,” Ha said. “So, I wanted to expand more with Project SEED.”

The payment was “partially” an influence in Ha’s decision to participate in SEED, but the experience was the biggest benefit.

“I gained a lot more knowledge in the field of chemistry and it got me ready for the AP class,” he said. Ha is considering majoring in chemistry, and more specifically on forensic chemistry. “It gave me more confidence that I’m going to major in chemistry,” he said. “It’s definitely a major I’m looking into.”

Ha gave some of the money he earned to his family. Turrieta, however, says the payment was a nice benefit. “Especially with senior year coming up,” she said, “there’s a lot of things you have to buy.” Nand, who will start her freshman year at UCLA soon, says the money will go toward her tuition.

“This is one of the best things I’ve seen for the sciences,” Lorentz said. The proximity of the program, hosted at UOP, gives Stagg students the advantage of not having to commute, Lorentz said, and the advanced lab work that extends beyond a normal classroom provides a unique experience.

“That’s the whole point of the program from the beginning,” Lorentz said, “to get high school students that are economically disadvantaged doing real science experiments.”