Off to college they go: celebrating 30 years of Boost transformations

Boost students together in a group
The Boost mentoring program for high school students is celebrating 30 years at Berkeley Haas. Photo: Jim Block

Alessa Moscoso’s Berkeley Haas journey began the summer after her freshman year of high school, when she commuted four hours from San Luis Obispo to Berkeley and back to attend Saturday classes at the Boost mentoring program.

“I’d be doing homework in the back seat as my parents drove,” she said.

Moscoso—who went on to be valedictorian of San Luis Obispo High School and graduate from Harvard University—is now back at Haas, the first Boost student to attend the Berkeley MBA program, as an Evening & Weekend MBA student.

“It seemed like a great fit for me,” said Moscoso, who is an engagement manager at life sciences company Trinity. “The program is allowing me to continue working and developing my own career, while at the same time going to a premier business school and learning from other amazing people across various industries.”

Alessa Moscoso attended Boost and then returned to Berkeley for an MBA. Photo provided by Moscoso.
Alessa Moscoso attended Boost in high school and then returned to Berkeley last year  for an MBA. Photo provided by Moscoso.

Founded by former Haas School dean and professor Raymond Miles in 1989, Boost is a mentoring program designed to bridge the opportunity gap for first-generation high school students from economically disadvantaged families by teaching them about business and entrepreneurship. Boost is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year—and is still going strong with its largest-ever summer class of 50 students.

A transformative experience

Over the years, more than 1,200 high school students have attended Boost, and, impressively, all program graduates have gone on to attend college. Oftentimes, they are first in their families to do so, said program director Lucas Abbott.

Abbott, who has been involved with Boost for almost 14 years, said watching the students transform, and often return to the program later as mentors as Moscoso did, is the most rewarding part of his job.

“When they first come in, they’re very unsure of themselves,” he said. “But by the end of the four years, they are confident individuals who know their worth and where they’re headed.”

Students apply to the program during the 8th grade and enter the summer before freshman year. Students practice life skills such as time management, financial literacy, and problem solving, and business skills including interviewing, resume writing, business dress and etiquette, and internships.

Berkeley Haas undergraduate, MBA, and PhD students, as well as other university students and local business professionals, teach and mentor in the program.

Freshmen work on real-world case studies and leadership/communication workshops. Sophomores spend the entire school year developing business plans on teams. And juniors and seniors are offered the opportunity to apply for paid positions as camp counselors and peer leaders, providing leadership opportunities and experience in cross-age mentoring. Off-campus field trips bring the group to top companies such as Airbnb, Deloitte, and Clorox, where they explore different career paths and get a chance to network.

Boost students climbing trees
The Boost program includes confidence-building and problem-solving challenges for high school students. Photo: Jim Block

“It made me believe I could get into any university”

Juniors and seniors also attend college readiness workshops, where they get help navigating college applications and financial aid documents, take SAT preparation classes, and go on college tours.

Vanessa Lopez, college adviser for Boost, notes that all members of the Boost class of 2019 are headed to college. Arelia Díaz, who just graduated from the Boost program, will attend UC Berkeley this fall.

“Boost put me at ease,” she said. “It made me believe that I could get into any university if I put my mind to it, that I could be greater than I think I am, and that there are still people in this world who want to see people of color, people of low income, and people of first generation, succeed.”

Malik Harris, who just completed his first year of Boost, said both his older siblings graduated from Boost, which made him excited to be a part of the program.

“Boost has always been an inspiration to me since I was a kid,” he said. “It’s always been something that I wanted to be a part of and now that I am, it’s great. I just want to try and be the best I can because it’s really going to help me go far.”