How one student is working to advance healthcare and educational opportunities.
When he arrived in Allston from Honduras a decade ago, Allston resident Jose Mendoza’s parents wasted no time in signing him up to take part in the mentoring program at the Harvard Ed Portal. In the beginning, the then 10-year-old came twice a week to learn about everything from life sciences to mathematics. He continued coming throughout his time in middle and high school. Upon high school graduation, he found himself returning to the Ed Portal with his two younger sisters who were also taking part in the mentoring program. His Ed Portal relationship eventually turned into a part-time job with Harvard’s Public School Partnerships (PSP) team, allowing him to work closely with students and teachers within the Boston Public Schools and Cambridge Public Schools, as well as with education experts from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
Today, Mendoza, a rising junior at Lesley University, who is also the incoming Student Body President, is tackling a new challenge. He’s currently enrolled in the Health Career Connection (HCC) program, which partners with the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, Dana-Farber and more. HCC is a prestigious national nonprofit working to empower underrepresented students who want to pursue healthcare and public heath careers. Mendoza first learned about the program through his Success Boston College Coach, a college completion initiative program for Boston Public Schools graduates, as well as through the Boston Foundation Student Leadership Council, where he is a member and an ambassador.
The Gazette checked in with him recently, and asked him about his new internship and his future plans.
Gazette: Last we heard from you, you were knee deep in running educational enrichment programs for Allston-Brighton students at the Ed Portal. Today, you’re enrolled in an impressive healthcare internship at Dana-Farber. Was this always part of the plan?
Mendoza: I have always been—and always will be—committed to advancing educational opportunities—especially to first-generation students like myself. My time spent with Harvard’s Public School Partnerships team, which is entrenched and making a difference with the local schools, and at my various activities at Lesley, has only solidified that passion and that commitment.
But I have also always been interested in the healthcare industry. One of my goals has always been to intern in a hospital that played a big role within the community, had a strong mission and values, as well as strong partnerships with other hospitals and institutions. Dana-Farber fit all of this perfectly. It has incredibly strong partnerships and affiliations with Harvard, with the Boston Red Sox, with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and more. And it’s making a difference in the lives of countless people with cancer. When I learned about the opportunity to intern at a comprehensive cancer treatment and research center in Boston, there was never any question—I knew I had to apply.
Gazette: Tell us about your experience at the internship. What are you learning?
Mendoza: For the past few weeks I have been working with the Clinical Laboratory Control Department in the Susan F. Smith Center, where I’ve seen firsthand how the Clinical Laboratories at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute work. I’ve been able to increase my understanding of the pre-analytical work, how they prepare specimens for testing, and how they then process and test blood and other biofluids. I’ve also learned about the Central Pathology Processing (CPP) process at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. This internship has given me the opportunity to witness the critical work a lab does in a high-volume hospital.
Gazette: How has your past—education, work, and life experiences—helped prepare you for this internship?
Mendoza: I remember first learning about cells while I was in the Ed Portal’s mentoring program in the fifth grade. Later on in high school, I worked with Community Call where I had the opportunity to work on projects like a suicide prevention program hosted by the Harvard Ed Portal. I started my college career at Lesley as a biology major with a neuroscience minor, but I soon learned that while I love science, what I really wanted to do was tackle the back end of the healthcare industry. During my sophomore year at Lesley, I changed my major to business management with a health minor. I want to play a part in the industry of management/administration in a hospital in the future.
My experiences at Lesley, and working with Harvard’s PSP team helped in part to shape this decision. Through my work with PSP I learned just how much I enjoy helping and giving back to my community. The work has allowed me to work on projects that have had direct, tangible and oftentimes long-lasting impacts on students and families. I’ve learned how to work effectively with diverse groups of people. I’ve been able to manage projects, grow my communication skills, learned how to make critical decisions, manage my time, and most importantly build relationships—both with my co-workers, and the people I’m serving. I have taken this knowledge and these skills with me to Dana-Farber. There, I know that however tangentially, I’m playing a role in helping cancer patients by assisting with the pre-analytical work at the lab. It’s incredibly rewarding. I also know that these skills are ones I’ll take with me wherever the future may take me.
Gazette: What are your plans for the fall, once you complete the internship?
Mendoza: In September I plan on coming back to Harvard to once again work with the PSP team, this time taking the lead in developing college and career access opportunities for youth in Allston and Brighton! Education is extremely important to me, and the PSP team works on many programs that help the next generation of students. Working at the Ed Portal will allow for me to continue being a role model to students, many of whom are first-generation students of color just like me. I want them to continue following their dreams. The Harvard Ed Portal is part of the very fabric of the Allston-Brighton community—my community. The work they do is amazing, educational, and life-changing and I want to be a part of the team that help delivers these incredible opportunities to the community.
During my junior year at Lesley, I hope to find my next internship for the summer of 2019, help raise the student voice on campus through my student government team, continue to be a student leader, and importantly stay on top of all my assignments!
Long term, I have no doubt that I want to stay local. Boston is my home. Ideally, I would like to work for an organization that focuses on the healthcare industry or education. Then, I would like to attend grad school and receive my MBA or MPH. Who knows? The sky’s the limit!