Kaman Hau never thought she’d get hands-on experience in a research laboratory as a high school student.
After friends and family encouraged her to apply to the Student Success Jobs Program (SSJP), Hau was overjoyed to achieve exactly that. Upon her acceptance into the program, she was placed in the Division of Endocrinology, where she met her mentors, principal investigator Ann Marie Zavacki, PhD, and research technician Colleen Carmody, who supervised her.
“Never in a million years would I have imagined myself being this far in my career in high school,” Hau said, adding that many college students never even step foot inside a lab. “I grew as a student because Colleen and Ann Marie challenged me to leave my comfort zone – I created bonds with individuals who motivated me to strive toward my goals.”
A program of the BWH Center for Community Health and Health Equity (CCHHE), SSJP partners with select Boston-area high schools to match students with mentors and paid internships across the Brigham. The program is focused on fostering the next generation of talented, diverse health care workers.
Joined by their families, colleagues and SSJP underclassmen, this year’s seniors were honored during a graduation ceremony held at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center on June 4.
Attendees heard from fellow students, keynote speaker Ricalder A. Valentine, MPH, MBA, director of Ambulatory Clinical Operations in the Department of Medicine, and SSJP alumna Angela Vu, RN.
In addition to her ongoing mentorship with Zavacki and Carmody and learning practical techniques, such as how to properly handle mice and genotype their DNA for research, Hau worked closely with SSJP on the college application process, including SAT preparation, essay writing and career planning. The Boston Latin Academy senior begins college at her dream school – Tufts University – this fall.
“It was this experience that pushed me to go into the medical field,” said Hau, who aspires to become a physician. “I can confidently say that SSJP is the best internship that any high school student could have.”
Overcoming Obstacles Together
More than 60 departments host SSJP interns. In a survey of SSJP alumni, more than 70 percent of program participants are first-generation college students, and more than 90 percent felt that the opportunity to work in a professional environment while in high school greatly assisted them in their college and career pursuits.
As part of her alumnus address at the recent graduation ceremony, Vu reflected on how the support network she found here helped her overcome personal challenges later in her college career.
During her junior year at the College of the Holy Cross, Vu unexpectedly needed to take a leave of absence for medical reasons. Shortly after she made this difficult decision, she received an email from SSJP asking alumni for an update on how they were doing.
“I didn’t want to reach out because I was embarrassed to tell them I was no longer in college,” Vu said. “A few days later, I found myself in the Longwood Medical Area speaking to SSJP staff about everything I was going through. After many tears and hugs, and a lot of encouragement, we came up with a plan.”
After taking the remainder of her junior year off to focus on her health, Vu and SSJP staff worked together on her application to University of Massachusetts Boston’s nursing program, to which she was accepted the following fall.
Today, she is a registered nurse at the Charles River Community Health Center and is applying to a family nurse practitioner program at Simmons College.
“The love from SSJP is enormous,” Vu said. “I can’t emphasize enough that the SSJP staff truly care about their students and support them in every way – they taught me resilience and to never give up on my dreams, no matter how impossible the situation may seem.”