Citizen Schools Alum Joins Biogen Summer Program

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In the spring of 2011, Jose Melo, a fifth grader at the Dever McCormack School in Dorchester, MA, took his first apprenticeships with Citizen Schools: It’s All About Gummy Bears and Bootstrap.  In the midst of learning the science behind what makes gummy bears gummy and what it takes to program a video game, he discovered an appetite for science and math.  By the time he graduated from eighth grade three years later, Jose had completed a total of twelve apprenticeships through Citizen Schools - all of which had a focus on STEM.

“While I participated in Citizens Schools, I developed a deep interest in the fields of Science and Math,” he says. “Many of my apprenticeships like “Think Like a Scientist” and “Neuron Robotics” revolved around technology and science which I find very intriguing.”

Earlier this month, Jose had the unique opportunity to further explore that interest in science and math, participating in Biogen’s competitive Summer Program, hosted at their Community Lab in Cambridge.  The program, Adventures in Biology, allows students to conduct hands-on lab projects, meet and interact with scientists and other biotech professionals. “We were thrilled to have Jose join us and to be able to help foster his interest in STEM and broaden his awareness of career opportunities in the biotech industry,” said Tracy Callahan, Community Labs Director at Biogen.

biogen community lab

During the program, Jose had the opportunity to meet with a variety of employees - who all shared their experiences and paths to Biogen. Reflecting on his week at Biogen, he tells us: “I think I've officially figured out what I want to major in and do in college. It involves math, science, design and technology which are all things I really love. I want to become a biomedical engineer.”

Jose has many fond memories from his time as a Citizen Schools student, but clearly remembers the time he presented a robot that he programmed himself, using bootstrap, to a team of professionals at Google in Cambridge. “The event was one of my most memorable moments in Citizen Schools and one of the apprenticeships I really enjoyed,” he says.  Jose also remembers gladly helping his classmates with last-minute repairs to their malfunctioning robots that day.

As an eighth grader, Jose participated in Citizen Schools’ Eighth Grade Academy (8GA), a program designed to help Boston eighth graders prepare for and manage the transition to high school. It was in that program that Jose met and developed a close relationship with his writing coach, Priscilla Cohen, a staff member at Citizen Schools. Together, they explored his options for high school in the Boston area, and Jose ultimately chose Beacon Academy, a 14-month program between eighth and ninth grade that prepares motivated and promising urban students for success in competitive independent high schools and beyond. At the end of his 14 months with Beacon Academy, Jose was accepted on a full scholarship to the Cambridge School of Weston, where he enters 11th grade this fall.

 Priscilla Cohen with Jose Melo

Priscilla Cohen with Jose Melo

“As Jose’s 8th grade Writing Coach, I witnessed first-hand his commitment to work hard, willingness to take advantage of every opportunity and his desire to get a great education,” says Cohen. “I am so excited that Jose had this incredible opportunity to participate in Biogen's summer program. I know he is going to thrive and contribute so much in the years ahead.”

Earlier this year, Jose traveled to Amsterdam with his classmates to participate in a two-week social design trip focused on incorporating art and science to design better communities. On that trip, his group focused on creating an advanced dew extractor, a device that pulls potable water from humidity in the air, which he describes as involving “a decent amount of math and a small dose of molecular science.” He credits this trip, along with his STEM apprenticeships at Citizen Schools, with his decision to apply to the Biogen Summer Program, where he says he had the opportunity to “further expand (his) experience” in both science and math.

As a National Leadership Partner of Citizen Schools, Biogen has invested over $2 million since 2008, helping Citizen Schools launch and strengthen its national STEM programming.  In that time, over 65 Biogen volunteers have donated over 2300 hours to teach 13 life sciences and STEM apprenticeships in both Boston and Durham, North Carolina.

After moving from the Dominican Republic when he was a baby, Jose and his family have lived in the Boston area for nearly 16 years. The older of Jose’s two sisters recently followed in her brother’s footsteps, completing a year at Beacon Academy, and will be starting as a freshman this fall at the Buxton School in Williamstown, MA.

This fall, Jose is looking forward to the introduction of physics mechanics, Mandarin 3 and running with the cross country team for the third year.  Additionally, he says he’ll be taking “a STEM integration class in which I will study how mathematics and science principles can be used in the world of engineering to build and design working technology that can be either implemented to protect the environment, or used for medicinal purposes.”

Jose is on track to being one of a few high school graduates from his extended family, and plans to be the first in his family to not only attend, but graduate from, a four year college.