Growing up in Cleveland, David Boone was always a “tinkerer.”
“I liked to mess with things and take things apart and fix them, but I never knew exactly what that meant,” says the 22-year-old. It wasn’t until he stepped into an information session at an experimental STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-focused high school, called MC2 STEM, that he even heard of the term “engineering.”
“There were no engineers in my community,” says Boone. “And being a smart kid, people always told me to be a doctor or a lawyer. But when I visited this school, and they talked about engineering, I knew it was something that fit my personality.”
Thanks to that info session, Boone is now studying computer engineering at Harvard, with a job lined up as a data scientist at Microsoft for when he graduates this month. But his path hasn’t been an easy one: Before he started high school, his family — mom, four siblings and a baby nephew — lost their home.
Boone spent most of the next four years bouncing from house to house, essentially homeless. And once he did enroll in Harvard, insecurities about being an affirmative action student, about not belonging, plagued him.
Boone was recently at a conference in Washington for STEM education. We spoke with him afterwards about how engineering has changed his life.
How did going to a STEM-focused school inspire you?
I was in the first class, which was exciting, because we got to shape it and direct it ourselves. At first I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but being at the school really got me excited about engineering. Freshman year, we’re going to the Great Lakes Science Center, and we’re learning about wind turbines, and there’s this massive wind turbine right outside. You could see the contraptions of the wind turbine actually working. That was an awesome thing. Or sophomore year, we’re on campus at General Electric and shadowing the engineers there. We even got to interact with some of the executives.
You were previously homeless — can you talk a bit about that?
The summer right before I started high school, we, my family, lost our home. Then my mother lost her job, and things kind of just spiraled. So I entered ninth grade very afraid to tell anyone at school what was going on, because I didn’t want family services involved. So, I just kind of floated for a while. I would stay late at school and volunteer to give tours so I could get free food. Eventually, the principal started putting pieces together, and he figured out I was homeless and actually invited me into his home. I was there for a year — that was probably my best academic year to date. But now my mother owns a home, and things are much better now.
What’s next for you?
I graduate in December, and I accepted a full-time offer with Microsoft as a data scientist — moving across the country! I’m working with a couple of startups now. But eventually, I want to be an entrepreneur, and I’m always looking for ways to learn what that means, what that road map looks like. But what I’m learning is that it doesn’t have any more of a road map than getting into Harvard, but there are things you can do to move in the right direction.
Do you have any advice for kids or teens like you?
Going to Harvard doesn’t fix everything, but all the experiences you have will make you a lot smarter and a lot stronger. They made me understand myself more, and I think they’re preparing me for what comes next.