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Applying Scientific Hypotheses to Create College-Prep Cultures in Urban Schools

By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Coordinator, Society for Science & the Public

Rajiv Vinnakota (ISEF International Science and Engineering Fair 1989), co-founder and managing director of the SEED Foundation, which partners with urban communities to provide innovative educational opportunities that prepare underserved students for success in college and beyond, is, in actuality, a scientist. He was fascinated with science in high school and studied molecular biology at Princeton.

“Scientific research taught me so much about the importance of persistence, diligence, and attention to detail. I apply my background as a scientist to my work today as an education reformer,” he says.

“I think in terms of scientific hypotheses. I look for data that either supports or contradicts the hypothesis, and then I use that data to prove the hypothesis,” Raj explained further.

For example, when Raj decided to quit consulting to focus on improving education for underserved students, he approached it scientifically. “The whole idea of SEED started as a hypothesis during a conversation with a friend from Princeton: ‘There are boarding schools for privileged kids, so why don’t we have boarding schools for kids who need them the most?’” he says. “And since that conversation, I have been testing—and proving—that hypothesis.”

With his co-founder Eric Adler, he established the first SEED school, a tuition-free, public boarding school for urban students, in Washington, D.C. in 1998, and opened a second SEED school in Baltimore in 2008. These urban, public, boarding schools are the first of their kind in the nation and are proving Raj’s hypothesis: Boarding schools for underserved students are possible, and furthermore, these students can—and will—succeed if given the right resources.

“We have our students 120 hours a week, so we can achieve a great deal by supplying a 24-hour-a-day, 5-day-a-week rigorous academic program and a safe, nurturing boarding environment,” he explained. SEED has a 91 percent graduation rate, and 95 percent of its graduates go on to four-year colleges and universities.

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