Allegheny County high school students are learning essential skills through the Penn State Commonwealth Campuses Community and Future Workshop Series. The workshops were made possible through a partnership with the Readiness Institute at Penn State and funding from a $100,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
Melanie Claxton, senior program officer for the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, said the workshops focus on future career pathways, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, digital fluency, life skills, and social-emotional learning.
“At the foundation, we believe the Readiness Institute’s model of student-centered program design has the potential to greatly impact the region’s approach to learning,” Claxton said. “The collaborative approach follows through on our hope that the public, private, and nonprofit sectors will leverage resources to advance innovative practices that demonstrate measurable and sustainable benefit to the communities we serve, while cultivating civic-minded and engaged members of society.”
The grant from the Benedum Foundation will support 40 Community and Future Workshops across four campuses in southwestern Pennsylvania: Penn State Beaver; Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus; Penn State Greater Allegheny; and Penn State New Kensington. The workshop series kicked off in the spring of 2022, providing a variety of learning experiences including artificial intelligence (AI) workshops, an entrepreneurship workshop, and a community and future readiness skills workshop.
Shakeria Carter, academic counselor for TRIO Support Services at Penn State Greater Allegheny, was an admissions counselor at the time of the workshops and hosted the event. She said each activity within the series helped students to sharpen their various social-emotional skills, soft skills, and understanding of financial literacy.
“Successful initiatives with Penn State Greater Allegheny and the Readiness Institute at Penn State have created a monumental event that exposed students to their futures within education while strengthening their skill sets,” Carter said. “The initiatives that we have completed through our partnership with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) have also been amazing. Each is specifically catered to the demographic of students in attendance, thereby, creating a personalized experience to engage, educate, and have fun!”
Brett Glavey, coordinator for the Early Reach Program at OVR in Pittsburgh, said OVR’s mission is to assist Pennsylvanians with disabilities in obtaining and maintaining employment and independence. The Early Reach Program provides students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in group workshops, post-secondary, and community events.
“Pittsburgh’s OVR Early Reach Program partners with local colleges and universities in Allegheny County with the goal to provide local high school students with disabilities the experience learning about life on a college campus,” Glavey said. “We have a one-day program that takes a close look at the admission process, financial aid, support provided to students with disabilities, and how institutions help their students get internships and jobs. We want them to get a chance to see what that lifestyle would be like.”
Justin Aglio, interim vice president for Penn State Outreach and executive director for the Readiness Institute at Penn State, said the focus of the workshops held at the campuses in southwestern Pennsylvania is to prepare students for life, personally, publicly, and professionally.
“The partnership and expertise of our amazing colleagues at the Commonwealth Campuses provides engagement with more than 600 students and 80 district-based staff creating community and future ready practices among educators throughout the participating school districts,” Aglio said. “Additionally, we are working together to develop and implement a communication plan to increase future program participation and share best practices in youth-centered program design.”
The Penn State Commonwealth Campuses Community and Future Workshop Series will continue this fall.