Gloversville High School science teacher Jennifer Hazzard became emotional when student Mason Lampron presented her with a poster he had created during the final weeks of his summer fellowship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy.
“As I opened the poster, I literally started to cry,” she said. “It reminded me of the work that I had done in college. I’m just so proud of Mason.”
Thanks to Hazzard’s encouragement, Lampron applied for and landed a prestigious six-week, paid fellowship this summer where he researched organic chemistry – specifically studying organometallic compounds, and how plants convert solar energy to chemical energy – at the Cogswell Laboratory on the RPI campus.
“Probably the most interesting thing was discovering how much is still not known about photosynthesis,” Lampron said. “It’s a topic that has been studied pretty extensively, and yet there are still things to be learned.”
The high school junior worked shoulder-to-shoulder with a small team of RPI students under the guidance of Dr. K.V. Lakshmi, an Associate Professor in Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Scientific Director of the Baruch ’60 Center for Biochemical Solar Energy Research.
Although he has no plans at least at this point to pursue a career in the renewable energy field, the work Lampron did in the lab was an experience he won’t forget.
“The first couple of days it was a little intimidating, because it’s nothing like high school,” he said. “The advanced equipment took a little getting used to, but I adjusted pretty quickly.”
Lampron added that the internship has helped make it clear to him that science is the path he wants to study in college, and working in a lab alongside a professor and college students has helped prepare him for what’s ahead.
“Having this experience makes the thought of studying science in college much less intimidating,” said Lampron, who is leaning toward studying pathology at a SUNY school after he graduates high school. “It has given me the opportunity to learn what to expect going in.”
Hazzard said that Lampron was one of her best students, and a top scorer on the chemistry Regents last year, which is part of the reason why she approached him about applying for the Project SEED fellowship, a program offered by the American Chemical Society.
“When Will Kennerly, a chemistry professor at Skidmore College, shared the information about Project SEED with me, Mason popped into my head immediately,” said Hazzard. “I knew he was a perfect fit. He applied for it and was accepted. At RPI, Mason was exposed to top of the line, state-of-the-art equipment, so now any lab he goes into, he will feel like he is better prepared.”
Interestingly, Lampron had little interest in science until about the sixth grade. “The science we learned in elementary school was really basic,” he said. “I remember learning about electric currents, and thinking it was the most boring thing ever. But getting into middle and high school you have opportunities to take classes on things that interest you. It helps you narrow down what it is you want to study.”
This year, he is taking physics, and will likely take AP Biology during his senior year. “Physics is weird,” he said. “It basically takes everything you think you know and throws it out the window. You think you know what velocity is, just wait – you don’t know what velocity is. Until you take physics, you have no idea.”
Lampron, who also plays varsity football for Gloversville, offered this advice to his peers, as well as to younger students. “If you find something you’re passionate about, you just have to go for it,” he said. “If there is another student who could get an opportunity like this, take it!”
Hazzard said the local Project SEED coordinator has strongly encouraged her to recommend more Gloversville students for the program.
“After looking over Mason’s credentials, Will [Kennerly] contacted me later and said to make sure I send him another student next year based on the feedback he received about Mason from the professor after the internship,” Hazzard said. “Mason is a very good representation of our students here in Gloversville.”
About Project SEED
Project SEED was established in 1968 to help economically disadvantaged high school students expand their education and career outlook.
The program provides opportunities for students who historically lack exposure to scientific careers to spend a summer conducting hands-on research with a scientist in academic, industry, and government research laboratories. Students receive a fellowship award for their efforts and a chance to receive a SEED college scholarship.