As we reflect on Women’s History Month and the achievements of women throughout Penn State Outreach, we are invigorated by Emma Hance, program manager and strategic planning specialist for the Readiness Institute at Penn State. We recently spoke to her about her role and here’s our conversation:
Tell me about your role with Penn State Outreach.
I absolutely love what I do. The Readiness Institute (RI) is based out of Pittsburgh, and while the majority of our programming focuses on Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania, we work with learners from all around the state — and the world! I’ve been with the RI as the program manager since it launched in November 2020, focusing on all of the details, policies, and logistics to ensure that all of our programs run smoothly and are in compliance. At the RI, we’ve been really fortunate to receive a lot of great feedback on our programs and increased interest in expanding programming, so last spring my role expanded to include that of the strategic planning specialist as well. When the RI launched, we made a commitment to our learners and our community that we would be around as a resource and to support them long-term, so as we grow and expand our programs, my job is to focus on how best to expand access to programming while continuing our existing portfolio of programs, thus ensuring the long-term sustainability of the RI and the relationships that we have worked so hard to build.
How does your work impact the communities within Penn State Outreach (greater Pittsburgh area)?
In less than 2.5 years, we’ve worked with over 400 students from more than 60 high schools, engaged with countless education, industry, and community partners, and collected more than 7,000 hopes that will be traveling to the moon on the Peregrine lunar lander as part of our Hope Moonshot project, which is more than I ever could have imagined when we first launched. When we talk about our programming, we typically group programs into two categories: exposure and impact. Exposure programs are those where we work with learners and professionals for anywhere from 1 hour to 15–20 hours, typically focusing on a single specific topic that might otherwise not be accessible to our learners (e.g., community and future readiness, artificial intelligence and machine learning, entrepreneurship, etc.). When we talk about impact programming, what we’re really talking about is the Readiness Institute Summer Program, where we work with rising high school seniors for 30 hours/week for 6 weeks over the summer (and beyond!) to really do a deep dive into their strengths, goals, and future pathways to encourage students to think about how they can leverage their strengths and successes to impact their communities.
How do you hope to see your position grow during your time with Penn State?
Honestly, this is a question that I always struggle to answer, as my role has changed so much since the launch of the RI less than 2.5 years ago! I’m incredibly passionate about the work that we’re doing at the RI and always welcome new challenges and opportunities, so as the RI continues to grow and evolve, I know that my role will grow and evolve right alongside it, and I’m excited to see what the future holds. While our first group of summer program alumni may have graduated from high school less than a year ago, I can’t wait for the day when we can bring some of our alumni on board as staff and instructors for future classes so that I can continue to support and mentor future leaders.
What about your work makes you most proud?
I truly am most proud of the work that our RI Summer Program learners, alumni, and instructors are doing. Every spring, the RI team puts a lot of time and energy into engaging with communities all across Allegheny County to attract a diverse group of learners and instructors to join us for the summer. Then, over the course of the 6 weeks of the summer program, we place a lot of emphasis on the importance of building strong relationships and the positive impacts that we can all have in our communities which, in turn, creates a really incredible community within the RI that lasts beyond the summer. In fact, I recently got to see some of our alumni from our 2021 cohort, and it’s amazing to see what they’re doing and hear them reflect on how the RI has influenced their pathway to this point and going forward.
What advice would you offer to individuals who are interested in making a greater impact in their respective fields?
Be honest with yourself about your goals, your strengths, and your why. I’ve always known that I like working with students and, for a long time, I thought that the only way to do that was as a classroom teacher. While I loved teaching and loved my students, I really struggled with the stress that came from the upstream issues that teachers are just expected to handle, and even contemplated leaving education entirely. Thankfully, my friends and family encouraged me to take a step back and do an honest self-assessment of my strengths and goals, which led me to the Out-of-School-Time (OST) space, where I joined the Penn State Center Pittsburgh’s team as the program manager for the CITY Semester program and, eventually, the Readiness Institute. By shifting over to the OST space, I’ve been able to continue working in education — a field that I’m incredibly passionate about — but in a role that is more sustainable for my personality and work style, thus allowing me to be fully present for my students and colleagues.