Gino Lerebours ’11 speaks at 41st Convocation

All photos courtesy of Gino Lerebours

It’s easy to trace now, but there’s a thread running through Reginald “Gino” Lerebours’ life that, like a string of lights that illuminate once the last bulb is in place, wasn’t always obvious. Its origins were so fuzzy that the NCSSM Class of 2011 alum and Duke University biostatistician turned to his parents for the details. What they told him was this: As a very young boy there were stacks of notebooks in his bedroom filled with sports-related numbers recorded in a child’s hand. On those lined pages were noted every goal and assist of Gino’s favorite soccer players. He kept track of basketball games he played with his friends, meticulously recording who won and who suffered defeat. Gino even imagined scenarios, extending real numbers into hypothetical situations. It was just something he did, something he enjoyed, something Gino now realizes he felt compelled to do, even at five, six, seven years old. It was the first in a series of coordinates along a path Gino didn’t even know he was following until a moment of discovery in his senior year at NCSSM.   The line extended from elementary school to middle school, where two more events foreshadowed the future. First, Gino was introduced to the scientific method. He was fascinated by the idea that there was a formal and easily followed process that allowed for questions, answers, and the testing of hypotheses.   “I appreciated the utility of the scientific method,” he says, “but I didn’t necessarily think of it as a vocation.”   A further middle school experience awed him. Three slightly filled cups of soda sat before Gino and his classmates. The first was Coke, the second Pepsi, the third a store brand. Which tasted better? Gino and his classmates sipped. It was near unanimous: Coke was the best, absolutely.   But they were all store brand, his teacher revealed. The class howled, amused at the trick that had been played on them. Gino laughed, too, but he was stunned by the revelation, by how easily he could be influenced. “The human mind is susceptible to all sorts of biases,” he says he learned that day. “I suddenly understood that we need rigorous processes to combat that.”   Those experiences awakened something in Gino, “kind of got my brain going.” But still he remained clueless as to their true significance.   Reginald "Gino" Lerebours '11 The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was never on Gino’s radar as he made his way through middle school and on to Green Hope High School in Cary. He’d never even heard of it. Life was comfortable, predictable, and reliable. He was doing well in school, playing soccer, had good friends, and wasn’t looking too much further ahead.    But then his mother, a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher in Durham County, came home one day with an idea suggested by a teacher friend. There was a math and science school in Durham, she told Gino, that might be worth looking into.   “I wasn’t particularly eager to apply,” Gino says, recalling the comfort he felt with his life in Cary. But his parents, always instilling in Gino the importance of education, gently encouraged him to give it more thought.    Though intimidated by the idea, Gino applied. And was accepted.   Now came a big decision. Stay or go? There was nothing in Cary chasing him away. He could remain home in the comfort of his friends and family and continue to cover ground where he had established himself as a straight-A student. Or he could leave it all behind and start anew.   “I knew that it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Gino says of the decision that was both hard and easy at the same time. “I knew that it would open me up to a more dynamic and exciting world where possibilities seemed somewhat endless. I was torn internally, but ultimately I was quick to say ‘yes’.”   Each day of the comfortable life Gino had led in Cary looked a lot like the days before and after. They were wonderful days, to be sure, filled with all the things and people Gino loved. But they blended together in predictable ways, the same patterns and textures of life reassuringly repeating.   Science and Math was like pulling back the canvas and stepping into the wonders of a Big Top circus, with new faces and new ideas from the very first day.    “It blew my mind,” Gino says. There were kids there from all walks of life, from every region of the state, each eager to share with and learn from each other. “I loved my junior year. There were brilliant students living next door to me and down the hall from me. And it humbled me in a beautiful way.”   Most astounding to Gino was that, from what he experienced, there was no social hierarchy at NCSSM, no cliquey grouping of students as he’d experienced elsewhere. Instead of secret and arbitrary boundaries that isolated kids from one another, there were open invitations to bond over ideas and common interests. Students flowed organically among groups of others like bubbles that originate and converge, diverge and coalesce again as they rise to the surface.   “It was,” Gino says, “a complete blast.”   By his senior year, Gino was accustomed to the wonders of residential life at NCSSM, but his second year at the school held something significant for him, the bulb that would light the string running through those primary school stats-filled notebooks and middle school science classes: Dr. Dan Teague’s AP Statistics course.   Something in the way Teague taught, Gino says, something in the way he shared his passion for stats, ignited in Gino the inherent desire that had been lying in wait for a decade.    “When I took that AP Statistics class with Dr. Teague, it was like this ‘aha!’ illumination moment,” Gino says. “Everything just clicked and I knew this is what I have to do. This is going to be my life’s path.” A strong background in statistics, Gino now understood, could provide an entry point into virtually any research project in the world.    Teague and his statistics class weren’t the only thing to inspire Gino. All around him were students that had future plans for master’s degrees and Ph.D.s. That kind of thinking rubbed off on Gino. By the time he graduated from NCSSM, he was absolutely certain of pursuing an undergraduate degree in statistics followed by additional degrees in the field.   He stuck to the plan. For the most part, at least. With a bachelor’s in statistics from NC State University and some fellowships under his belt, Gino went straight into a Ph.D. program at Harvard.   But another realization awaited him. In the midst of his studies, Gino realized that something was missing. With all his energies focused on the intellectual pursuit of a Ph.D., he had lost track of its context. Though working toward a theoretical understanding of the field, he had virtually zero experience in its practical application outside the classroom. There was, he admitted to himself, no understanding of the humanity behind the numbers.   So, once he earned his master’s degree in biostatistics, he stepped back from the pursuit of the Ph.D. to reassess. “I felt like I was too much in that [academic] zone and I did not understand the purpose of my actions as they related to living my life in general.”   Gino’s step back translated into a lot of steps forward. Hundred of thousands, in fact. To gain clarity, Gino spent the next six months travelling through Southeast Asia, Turkey, and the Palestinian territories. He hiked through the West Bank and worked in a summer camp in Istanbul. All along the way, he met people and had experiences that continued to influence his plans.   When it was over, Gino had a new understanding of how he wanted to navigate life and contribute to society. It required one more step, this time toward home. He had a ready social network there; his family was there, and he had a sense of what needed to be done to make life better in his home state. “It seemed to me that it made the most sense to go back to the place I knew the best,” he says. “It was a no-brainer.”   Today Gino is a biostatistician at Duke University, where he collaborates with Duke faculty in the School of Medicine to help them publish their research at every stage of the scientific process. Whether helping researchers frame and design their research questions, analyzing their data sets, or helping write research manuscripts, his role is critical in solving medical mysteries. He has co-authored nine manuscript publications in collaboration with Duke faculty in the departments of surgery and radiology.   At just 27 years old there’s still a lot left for the NCSSM graduate to achieve, but he’s happy with the direction his life has taken.    “I think my high school self would have been blown away at where I am now, but at the same time I think he could appreciate that this was the path that was set before me,” Gino says. “Science and Math was a real catalyst for that.”    Reginald "Gino" Lerebours '11

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