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Sharing a passion for chemistry through Project SEED

Rosie Bonjouklian | Donor 2019 marks 20 years for the Project SEED Scholarship at IUPUI

As a young medicinal chemist at Eli Lilly & Company, Rosie Bonjouklian, Ph.D., learned about a program called Project SEED that allowed high school students to explore the field she loved.

Started by the American Chemical Society, Project SEED provides Indianapolis area low-income junior and senior high school students access to scientific research opportunities during the summer. Students must have one year of chemistry to participate. Nearly 850 students have participated in the Indianapolis program since it started in 1972. Lab opportunities have been primarily with researchers at IUPUI, IU School of Medicine, Eli Lilly and Company, and Heritage Research Group.

“I thought it was the most imminently sensible program you can imagine, allowing juniors in high school to go into a serious research laboratory and be a part of a serious project,” Bonjouklian said.


Bonjouklian talks to a Project SEED participant during a summer 2019 event. | Photo: Dustin Ryder

For Bonjouklian, she recalls a chemistry class in her New Jersey high school that sparked her interest in the field. She started writing letters to local companies to find a summer job where she could learn more about chemistry, but nothing crystallized. She recalled that disappointment and immediately understood the opportunities Project SEED could have for kids to explore the field while learning the ups and downs of research work.

Now, Bonjouklian has been a dedicated volunteer and advocate for Project SEED for nearly 40 years and established an IUPUI scholarship that has helped Project SEED students for 20 years.

Bonjouklian moved to Indianapolis in 1978 to work at Lilly and by 1980 she was involved in the Project SEED steering committee. Soon she started hosting students in her medicinal chemistry research lab for a summer of scientific exploration.

In 1999, Bonjouklian established the Project SEED Scholarship for Indianapolis-area students who have successfully participated in the summer program. The four-year renewable scholarship is available to former Project SEED participants to pursue science or science-related degrees at IUPUI.

These students are already familiar with campus and have made connections with researchers on campus and in the community. By choosing to study at IUPUI, these students can continue working with these researchers and exploring the field, she shared.

Bonjouklian attended a local college to receive a B.S. in chemistry, and she empathizes with students who need an affordable path to higher education. 

“It’s your effort that really engages your success, not necessarily how much you pay for a college education,” she said.

Over the years, Bonjouklian has kept in touch with Project SEED participants and scholarship recipients. She shares stories of how students have pursued medical school and successful careers in research—and even a few stories of students who met their future spouse in the program. There are families where siblings participated in the program and many others who continued researching on campus in the same lab. The broad impact of the Indianapolis SEED program has received accolades as well—it has twice been recognized as the National SEED Program of the Year by the American Chemical Society.

“I am just amazed by how much this program has grown and how it’s become one of the largest Project SEED initiatives in the country,” she said.

For IUPUI biochemistry student Anna Martin, Project SEED was a determining factor for her career path. Through the program, she was placed in a biochemistry research lab at Lilly.

“I fell in love with biochemistry,” she said.

Martin spent two summers conducting research at Lilly, where her work was published. Now a senior at IUPUI, Martin aspires to attend medical school. Martin knew awards such as the Project SEED Scholarship for her undergraduate education would help her achieve her long-term goals.

“I am able to graduate debt-free thanks to the generosity of donors such as Dr. Rosie Bonjouklian,” Martin said. “It means the absolute world to me that I’ve been able to receive these scholarships.”

By Candace Beaty Gwaltney

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