RI advances new pathway for learners to achieve community and future readiness

August 19, 2021

PITTSBURGH — Forty-five high school seniors from 22 Allegheny County high schools, and more than 30 education, industry and community collaborators, became one team as the Readiness Institute (RI) at Penn State launched its inaugural Summer Program at the Penn State Center Pittsburgh. Several of the students who completed the Summer Program have now been accepted to move on to participate in the Mark Cuban Foundation AI Bootcamp, which also will be hosted for the Pittsburgh region by the RI at Penn State.

Cassandra Gray is one of those students. She said she wants to major in computer science/computer engineering and immediately jumped on the opportunity to apply for the Mark Cuban Foundation AI Bootcamp after her experience in the first-of-its-kind summer program in western Pennsylvania.

“As much as it scared me at first, I really liked that we were in groups with a diverse population of people that we didn’t know,” Gray said. “Getting to know more about each individual and their background showed me how similar, but different, we all are.”

The six-week program curriculum, built by the RI at Penn State team and a volunteer panel of program advisers, was designed to give learners like Gray the opportunity to explore future career paths and stewardship opportunities, build communication skills, establish best practices to challenge intolerance, enhance digital literacy skills, develop positive financial habits, and match aspiration to opportunities. The RI at Penn State Blog features a week-by-week, share-out of Summer Program activities.

The Summer Program is supported by funding from The Heinz Endowments. Each student received a Chromebook laptop to use while enrolled in the program, along with a $2,000 stipend.

Justin Aglio, senior director of the Readiness Institute at Penn State, said the Summer Program is a student-centric experience.

“The RI at Penn State Summer Program was designed as a test-solution program that creates actionable results with pragmatic and real-world solutions,” Aglio said. “The learners were placed at the center of the program. Equity was intentionally embedded in every aspect of the program by providing stipends and diversity within the cohorts.”

Tamara Johnson is one of nine instructors hired for the RI at Penn State Summer Program. She said the essence of the program was its ability to not only educate, but to give learners an immersive experience outside of their comfort zones, to look at other lifestyles, mindsets and life paths. An experience that can serve them for a lifetime, regardless of the path they choose in the future.

“Their ability to imagine themselves in other peoples’ situations and practice empathy without value judgements is essential,” Johnson said. “Modern American education has been very focused on STEM/STEAM curriculum, but with it can come an accidental loss of soft skills. We’re supporting both and hoping to change the world.”

Gray said she will take the skills she learned this summer with her into her next endeavor.

“This program helped me to come out of my shell, form new friendships, and create a network of professionals that inspire me with their own stories about overcoming obstacles — despite the odds,” Gray said. “I was going throughout my learning journey not knowing the necessities of making success happen, so I am grateful for the knowledge I have gained through this experience. The instructors and speakers have helped me to create a clear idea of what I want my future to look like, and the journey toward success has become an exciting one!”

Learn more about other initiatives offered by the RI at Penn State, including the Mark Cuban Foundation AI Bootcamp and the Hope Moonshot by visiting the programs page of the website.

The RI at Penn State and the Penn State Center Pittsburgh are units within Penn State Outreach and are both located in the Energy Innovation Center. The EIC is a Pittsburgh-based, nonprofit organization on Bedford Avenue, with a mission focused on sustainability and workforce development.

  • Students working together on the first day of the RI at Penn State Summer Program

    “Best Day Ever.” “Genius.” “Change Maker.” These words buzzed through the air from learners during the first week of the inaugural Readiness Institute at Penn State Summer Program — a six-week paid experience for rising high school seniors that helps them become community and future ready.

    IMAGE: Readiness Institute at Penn State
  • RI at Penn State Summer Program students looking at Argo AI self-driving car.

    Learners toured Argo AI and heard about different career pathways from team members. The company’s engineers also did a live demonstration with a self-driving vehicle and explained the technology powering the vehicle.

    IMAGE: Readiness Institute at Penn State
  • Students visit SLB radio studio.

    Learners also had the opportunity to create their own podcast at SLB (Saturday Light Brigade) Radio. Team members at SLB, located at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, led the participants through a workshop at their radio station studio focused on empowering youth voices.

    IMAGE: Readiness Institute at Penn State
  • Tony Roberson

    Tony Roberson, a stand-up comedian and DJ who also runs his own entertainment/media company, talked to the learners about the importance of determination and perseverance and shared his go-to saying with students: “Do today what others won’t, so you will have tomorrow what others don’t.”

    IMAGE: Tony Roberson
  • TEAMology

    Emotional wellness and social and emotional learning were also a main focal point of the week with Linsey Covert, founder and CEO of TEAMology, who led hands-on, essential skill workshops, such as the “Pyramid Challenge,” where students worked in teams to build a cup pyramid using only a rubber band and strings.

    IMAGE: Readiness Institute at Penn State
(1 of 5)

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 20, 2021