This story originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Brigham and Women's Magazine.
As teenagers, Kevin Le’s parents fled Vietnam to the United States to escape raging war and start their lives anew.
“My parents have very little formal education and always wanted the best for me,” says Le. “I had to figure out a lot about school on my own, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
A 2012 graduate in chemistry from College of the Holy Cross, Le is a technician in the Alzheimer’s research laboratory of Cynthia Lemere, PhD, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). Le initially met Lemere as a high school sophomore in 2006, when he was selected to join her lab through BWH’s Student Success Jobs Program (SSJP).
“At first, Kevin was very respectful but unsure of himself,” says Lemere, associate neuroscientist in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH. “By the time he graduated from high school, he was training new people and performing some of the best techniques of anyone here.”
Sasha DuBois, MSN, RN, found similar long-term support and experiences through SSJP.
“I walked into the doors of BWH in October 2002, a junior in high school from Roxbury,” says DuBois. “I gained wonderful mentors from all disciplines, and worked in the Emergency department throughout college because I was able to prove myself by being in SSJP.”
DuBois now serves as nurse-in-charge of a BWH inpatient unit, and was recently named the inaugural Mairead Hickey Fellow in Nursing Leadership. Named in honor of Mairead Hickey, PhD, RN, FAAN, former chief nursing officer at BWH, the fellowship prepares the next generation of caregivers for leadership by pairing fellows with senior-level mentors and engaging them in new roles and responsibilities.
Le and DuBois are two among the more than 500 students SSJP has mentored since its inception in 2000. The program introduces Boston’s traditionally underrepresented sophomores, juniors, and seniors to working in a hospital environment, while the program’s mentors—accomplished healthcare professionals who form SSJP’s core—help them identify and pursue career goals.
This year 95 students are enrolled in the program, the largest class ever. Each SSJP student works up to 10 hours weekly during the school year in an array of hospital settings including laboratories and clinics. These hands-on experiences provide exceptional skill building and exposure to world-class medicine, while the wages earned through SSJP helps students support themselves and, in many cases, their families. Participants also benefit from SSJP’s monthly seminars, personal goal-setting sessions, academic tutoring, and SAT and college preparation.
“I love SSJP so much that I put it in my will,” says Lemere, an SSJP mentor since the program began. “It’s incredibly important and meaningful to get Boston’s high school students excited about science—especially those who might not otherwise have access to this unique opportunity. It’s a pleasure to watch students evolve and bloom into exceptional young adults.”
Alumni surveys illustrate SSJP’s astounding impact in students’ lives. Almost all respondents have enrolled in or graduated from college, and most majored in a science, health, or medical field. Furthermore, 95 percent felt SSJP helped them prepare for college and 92 percent felt well prepared for employment.
“An integral part of delivering quality care includes fostering a staff and faculty who reflect the communities we serve,” says Wanda McClain, vice president of Community Health and Health Equity at BWH. “This program is dedicated to building a diverse workforce by giving underrepresented students significant experience, support, and mentorship in the medical field.”
BWH’s commitment to the greater community extends beyond SSJP. Nearly 20 programs in the Center for Community Health and Health Equity (CCHHE) focus on improving both the health of Greater Boston’s residents and long-term economic prospects for low-income families. Through the CCHHE, BWH works with residents of Boston’s neighborhoods to break through economic, social, educational and cultural barriers to good health.
“We provide a wide range of development opportunities for young people of all ages, beginning in pre-kindergarten and elementary school,” says Michelle Keenan, community program director. “And in many cases, these students stay with us through college and into full-time employment. This benefits the hospital, our patients, and our dedicated and skilled student employees.”
SSJP graduates like Kevin Le are eager to pay forward their life-changing BWH experiences. For the past two years, Le has been mentoring Jessica Fok, a high school senior who also works in the Lemere lab, and plans to pursue medical school.
Sasha DuBois believes SSJP enables students to succeed by setting their minds on their dreams and providing the practical support needed to achieve them.
“SSJP gives students a chance to start their careers early,” says DuBois. “SSJP helped me carry out my dream of becoming a nurse by giving me opportunities to not only get my foot in the door of the health care industry, but to thrive.