This summer, rising junior Neil Paul worked with PROPEL, an education and mentorship non-profit in Boca Raton, Florida, that provides academic support for for middle and high schoolers in systemically underserved communities. Neil was selected as a 2022 DukeEngage Brodhead Fellow, a program that sponsors five independent projects each year led by Duke undergraduates to tackle social issues with U.S.-based community partners.
PROPEL offers mentorship, tutoring, SAT/ACT prep, life skill training, financial literacy, and extracurricular opportunities for students in grades 6–12. The organization was founded in 2003 with a mission to support the academic and social-emotional needs of students, and provide a safe environment for students to learn and access mentorship, resources, and career development opportunities. Neil highlighted PROPEL’s commitment to the success of its students, stating, “As an alumnus myself, I know that PROPEL is an organization that works tirelessly to make sure their students graduate, obtain a degree or enter a trade school, and become well-adjusted adults.”
Neil’s decision to partner with this organization was influenced in part by her participation in PROPEL as a junior in high school: “Initially, I went to the program because my dad wanted me to accompany my younger sister who needed tutoring lessons but along the way I found a community of mentors and friends who loved and supported me. The organization was one of the defining factors that led me to be the woman I am today. I’ve always said if I were to ever have the opportunity to give back to an organization that has given so much to me I would.”
Neil had that opportunity as a Brodhead Fellow this summer and worked for eight weeks supporting PROPEL’s marketing and digital communications. She was also determined to create a new program for the organization that could be sustained once her fellowship ended. This led Neil to create an alumni program called PROPEL Forward, which will support the needs of PROPEL student graduates as they transition into adulthood, connecting them with mentorship, job skills, and scholarship opportunities.
Through the Brodhead Fellowship, Duke students also receive support and mentorship from a Duke alumnus in a relevant field of work. Neil worked with her alumni mentor, Lauren Gardner (MBA’06), to create the idea for PROPEL Forward. Lauren serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Emily Krzyzewski Family Life Center, which provides academic and professional support to students from underserved communities in Durham.
Neil will continue to support PROPEL Forward until resources can be mobilized for a staff person to manage the initiative full-time. Neil reflected on her continued work with PROPEL, stating, “I fully intend on continuing my work with PROPEL after this summer because I admire the work that they are doing and this summer working for them has been fulfilling for my own soul. I chose to participate in the Brodhead Service Program this summer so that I could engage in meaningful work, without a focus on profit, with a community that I am connected to.”