If not for a national summer internship program that allows economically disadvantaged high school students to work with mentors on important chemistry projects, many of those young researchers might never discover the educational opportunities that await them.
But the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Project SEED does exactly that. And, at Case Western Reserve University, the faculty member helping to lift those promising students is Carlos Crespo-Hernández, associate professor of chemistry and co-director of the Center for Chemical Dynamics.
“Coming from a poor family from Puerto Rico,” he said, “I entered science and technology because someone at a university gave me an opportunity. I am an example of that.”
Crespo-Hernández is also an example of faculty excellence and, for that, he’s been awarded the 2018 Morton L. Mandel Award for Outstanding Chemistry Faculty.
Mort Mandel, through the Morton and Barbara Mandel Family Foundation, annually rewards an outstanding faculty member in chemistry—the discipline in which the Case Western Reserve alumnus and benefactor earned his bachelor’s degree in 2013.
“It’s a great honor and I’m obliged for this recognition,” Crespo-Hernández said, “especially taking into consideration the distinguished life and philanthropic work of Mort Mandel and all that he has done for higher education, Case Western Reserve University and society in general.”
In addition to running an internationally recognized and highly productive and visible research program—producing 11 peer-reviewed papers in 2017 alone—and being recognized with the 2016 John S. Diekhoff Award for Distinguished Graduate Student Teaching, Crespo-Hernández has coordinated and managed Project SEED since bringing the program to campus in 2010.
The program has impacted more than 40 students, including many who have participated for two years. Through that experience, 85 percent of the participating students went on to pursue a college education in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
He has also mentored over 70 underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students as part of the ‘Más Allá de lo Posible’ (Beyond the Possible) Mentoring Program for undergraduate Latino students, the Research Experience for Undergraduate program, the Minority Graduate Student Organization and the Northern Ohio Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate Program at Case Western Reserve.
“These activities—and others—reflect the deep passion Carlos has for the education of students who may need greater attention and mentoring than traditional students,” said John Protasiewicz, the Hurlbut Professor of Chemistry, chair of the Department of Chemistry and 2017 Mandel Award-winner. “The Mandel Award is an excellent opportunity to acknowledge his large investment in the futures of these students.”
Crespo-Hernández, who grew up in Puerto Rico and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, joined the Case Western Reserve faculty in 2007 and immediately began working to bring Project SEED to campus.
Project SEED was established nationally in 1968 to help economically disadvantaged high school students expand their education and career outlook. Funding for the program is provided by the American Chemical Society and the Project SEED endowment, the College of Arts and Sciences and the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the CAREER program.
For eight weeks of the summer, SEED fellows, who are selected from high schools throughout Greater Cleveland, work with scientists to help them develop laboratory, written and oral skills as they discover they’re capable of conducting scientific research. Mentors also provide guidance, encouragement and letters of recommendation for college. Several of these students have become co-authors of scientific publications.
At Case Western Reserve, under his guidance, the program has continually grown.
“We started with the chemistry department,” he said, “but with encouragement from (College of Arts and Sciences Dean) Cyrus (Taylor), we have expanded to scientists in the School of Medicine and Case School of Engineering.”
In addition, Crespo-Hernández won a NSF CAREER award in 2013 to investigate how molecules found in human cells, or prescribed as medicines, trigger damage to cellular DNA and are implicated in skin cancer when exposed to sunlight.
He’s also one of 13 faculty members chosen to mentor undergraduate students in chemistry and the biological sciences for the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Scholars Awards program.