Summer program evens playing field for medical students

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A program in central Indiana is helping mold the future of medicine for our entire country, and it’s also evening the playing field for all students, regardless of their background.

This summer was one to remember for Joseph Boone, 20, because of the time he spent with science.  Boone will be a sophomore this fall at IUPUI with some very big dreams on the horizon.

“I want to be an orthopedic trauma surgeon,” said Boone whose entire family is inspired by his goal.  “My mom wanted to be a nurse, but both my parents wound up not finishing college.”

Without connections that some pre-med students might have, Boone turned to the Summer Research Program at IU Simon Cancer Center.  Dr. Marc Mendonca is one of the mentor instructors helping to increase the number of students from underrepresented populations pursuing biomedical and behavioral science careers.

“One of the problems, of course, is during the summer students need to work frequently to help pay for their education,” explained Mendonca.  “The great part of this program is they get to work and do research.”

Boone gets a stipend from the Simon Cancer Center to study pancreatic cancer cells.  Doing work like this also keeps students motivated, especially when mentors like Mendonca share their personal experience.

“I tell them my story,” said Mendonca.  “I was a working class kid in Massachusetts.  My mom and dad had not been to college.”

Mendonca said his story helps students relate to him  “It makes it easier to see you can actually do it because it’s a long road,” said Mendonca.  “Yeah I didn’t have any connections. My parents didn’t have money but you can still follow your dreams.  You just have to be willing to do the work.”

When Boone was asked about hearing his own mentor’s story, he said it does make a difference in the lab.

“It makes it easier to see you can actually do it because it’s a long road,” said Boone.

Dr. Mendonca said Boone was so helpful and talented that he will likely get hired back after the 9 week program is over.  Boone’s work, like most of the students in the program, will get published too.

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