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BOOST Beyond is a graduate and professional student-led organization that provides high school students in the Durham Public School system (DPS) with help navigating their future plans.

Professional group photo of BOOST Beyond

BOOST Beyond was founded in 2020 as an extension of BOOST (Building Opportunities and Overtures in Science and Technology), a multidimensional pathway program organized by the late Dr. Brenda Armstrong. While the original BOOST program serves middle school students, BOOST Beyond seeks to build on that foundation by extending support to high school students who are historically underrepresented in STEM fields. Together, M.D./Ph.D. candidates Rebecca Gibson and Jake Benton worked with their mentee Karen Gonzalez-Palomo and BOOST Director Douglass Coleman to set the initial foundation for BOOST Beyond.

As such, BOOST Beyond is open to any high school junior or senior who has been enrolled in a BOOST program for at least one year. Once accepted as mentees in BOOST Beyond, students work closely with two graduate student mentors over the course of a year, meeting for at least one hour a month.

Mentors help their mentees through the college application process, providing guidance about fee waivers, ACT/SAT preparation, making a college list, applying for financial aid, and writing a personal statement. They also support their mentees more generally towards their academic and professional goals.

“As not only a first-generation student, but a LatinX student, BOOST Beyond gave me the confidence I needed to apply to college,” says Julisa Perez, who is now a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill. “I knew I was never alone while applying for college because the BOOST Beyond team had my back.”

Professional group photo of BOOST Beyond in mid-air

In the process, participating graduate and professional students gain access to formal mentorship training workshops as well as hands-on mentorship experience, with special attention towards upholding justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) values.

“Being a part of a community of graduate students who are all volunteering to help the local future generations has been very fruitful and fun,” says Kent Yamamoto, a Ph.D. student in Duke’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “And seeing my mentee learn and practice new technical skills toward her interest in biomedical engineering research has been truly rewarding.”

Like the original BOOST program, BOOST Beyond is free of cost. It therefore depends upon partnerships and funding opportunities in order to continue its mission. BOOST Beyond executive team members Lindsey Chew, Margaret Weber, Rebecca Gibson, and Bijan Abar—all M.D./Ph.D. candidates at Duke—emphasize the current impact and future potential of the program, which has grown to include 38 high school scholars.

Round headshot of Lindsey Chew
Lindsey Chew, M.D./Ph.D. Candidate in Ophthalmology

"Participating as a BOOST Beyond mentor has taught me about the unique challenges faced by students of diverse backgrounds. As an M.D./Ph.D. candidate aspiring to a career in academic medicine and research, I also feel strongly that the values of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) are core to the physician scientist identity."

Round headshot of Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson, M.D./Ph.D. Candidate in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

"Graduate students are the future of academia. Allowing graduate students to take on mentorship experiences during their training nurtures the development of future academic faculty capable of providing high-quality and effective mentorship. Mentoring is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced and if graduate students wait until they’re professors to start this practice, they will miss out on years of experience and opportunities to develop their mentorship."

Round headshot of Margaret Weber
Margaret Weber, M.D./Ph.D. Candidate in Pharmacology and Cancer Biology

"BOOST Beyond has been one of the most impactful aspects of my training at Duke in preparing me for a career in academia as an active member of an inclusive, diverse, and creative scientific environment. With over 80 graduate and professional students serving in mentor and/or executive team roles, the impacts of BOOST Beyond impacts extend across the Duke graduate and professional schools."

Round headshot of Bijan Abar
Bijan Abar, M.D./Ph.D. Candidate in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

"I carry the lessons I’ve learned from BOOST Beyond into mentoring my current undergraduate students in the lab, and I plan to carry these lessons into mentoring my graduate students one day as a professor. BOOST Beyond not only attracts people supportive of each other and the diversity of ideas and perspectives, but continuously fosters an inclusive community."