Making the Grade: STEAM Prepares Students for Success

Esther L. Bush
President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

Facebook: @ulpgh 

Homestead Borough, an underpopulated and chronically underserved community located near the city of Pittsburgh, has had its share of hard times. And for many students at Propel Andrew Street High School, whose challenges span the spectrum from poor attendance to failing grades, the road to academic success often feels like a dead end. In response, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh created the Digital Connectors/Project Ready STEAM (DC/PR STEAM) program.

The initiative, which introduces students to careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), has since become a source of hope and progress for many of them, including “Shea Matthews.” Shea was at risk of failing a science class and was strongly encouraged to attend our program. Reluctant to participate at first, her interest was soon piqued when she realized she could earn extra credit that would help her improve her grades in her current classes. Beyond school credit, obligation soon transformed into genuine interest. STEAM Program Manager Jane Lee described Shea’s joy “when she could do experiments that caused things to react and blow up," explaining that, “the statement became our running joke, and I would tell her, 'we are not blowing up anything today, but we are going to have fun!'" Although Shea worked at an after school job, she would often rearrange her schedule to attend DC/PR STEAM. With the extra credit she earned, Shea not only passed her science class, but raised her final average by one letter grade.

The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh also hosts two outside-of-school programs to expose African-American students to science, technology, engineering and math endeavors, working to increase their interest in STEAM. These programs broaden previously limited horizons for this underrepresented and disadvantaged population, by incorporating goal-setting behaviors that aim to improve academic outcomes, and ultimately, lead to satisfying and sustainable employment.

Now in her junior year, Shea has taken a newfound interest in the field of science and is open to learning more about potential STEAM careers. Programs like DC/PR STEAM empower students to take personal responsibility for their academic achievement, significantly increasing their chances of professional success in the future. For too many students like Shea, the road to academic success can often be as difficult as the neighborhoods where they reside. DC/PR STEAM is evidence that where there is a will, and appropriate social and academic support services, the road to success is only steps away.