Final Week of Summer Program Sends off New Group of Community and Future Ready Learners

Six weeks. 150 hours. 64 learners. 5 counties. 50+ field trips. 20+ workshops and speakers. 40 hours of combined community service. Countless friendships, memories, and connections. That was the 2023 Readiness Institute at Penn State Summer Program in a nutshell. Each week, learners in Pittsburgh and Central PA showed up on-site, off-site, and online to explore real-life issues and skills, hear about new career and college pathways, and make community connections with each other and leaders in the region.

This program does not end today.

— Emma Hance, Program Manager at the Readiness Institute

For the final week of the program, learners in Pittsburgh focused on communication and soft skills, while the theme in Central PA was future career pathways. Cohorts had their final classroom workshops, took their last tours, and then joined together on Thursday for the closing day celebration at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh.

On-Site Activities

In the classroom, Pittsburgh learners kicked off week 6 with keynote speakers Dylan, Kathy, and Kathleen from Partner4Work. The team talked about the state of the current workforce in Pittsburgh, including breaking down data by age, gender, ethnicity, and industry. They also discussed ways that the organization can work with partners and the community to help make Pittsburgh an engine of economic activity and to develop a more thriving workforce — one that many summer program learners will be entering in the near future.

comm screenFor the final afternoon workshop in Pittsburgh, Daniel Dzodin, executive director of Schools that Can Pittsburgh, joined learners in the classroom to talk about how to be an effective communicator. He started the session by putting himself in the “hot seat” and allowing students to ask him ANY question they’d like for 3–5 minutes — an education method to make everyone in the room feel comfortable and validated. The group then used Jamboard to answer and discuss a few questions, including: what is communication, what’s difficult about communication, how does communication show up in your life, and others. Learners also got to test out some new communication skills during a “Bop or Flop” game (debating several pop cultural and communication topics), as well as by writing an appeal to ask for something (a car, a raise, a better grade, or even in Chass’s case, a motorcycle). To do this, they used a problem/action/response method:

  1. Explain the problem
  2. Describe the right action
  3. Speak the result into existence

In Central PA, Mike Hennessy, manager of learning and programs at the Moonshot Museum, led a workshop with learners about making space accessible to all. He talked about the growing space industry in the region, the range of careers in the field, other STEM pathways, and the next lunar lander to go to the moon — built in Pittsburgh! Learners also paired up for several quick activities, including one where they were tasked with creating a poster promoting why people should move to their fictional colony on the moon. It was a fun and creative way to think about space exploration!

Learners in all locations also got more time in the classroom with Fred Quinn III, alumni network coordinator at the Readiness Institute, who is usually accompanying groups on their off-site trips. He talked to them about what it means to now be a part of the growing alumni network of the Readiness Institute Summer Program — a lifetime of guidance, friendship, mentoring, outings, workshops, job connections, and more.

When we say we’re with you for life, we really mean it.

– Fred Quinn

Off-Site Trips

ishan on green roof

For the six weeks of the program, learners have been meeting for on-site and off-site days at the Readiness Institute offices at the Energy Innovation Center. This week, for their morning off-site visit, learners got to learn more about the historic LEED Platinum building. Tom Bartnik, director of the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, talked to the groups about the building’s sustainability and energy efficient features and led them on a tour. They even got to check out the green roof with one of the best views in the city!

In the afternoon, Pittsburgh learners traveled to BotsIQ in Bellevue to explore coding and robotics. They worked on basic block coding and how to use code for robots and controllers. Learners even worked together to build a Lego COBOT (a collaborative robot) that was coded to stack blocks.

“I think that was really fun and it helped me confirm that I like hands-on stuff as opposed to just listening.” — Tatum

“I always found coding fascinating because it’s crazy how some words can do so much.” — Eymi 

For the Bedford/Blair cohort, learners toured the REI Distribution Center in Bedford — one of the largest outdoor supplies distributors in the country. They saw how the products arrive and are separated and heard about all of the positions and employee benefits in the company. In the afternoon, the group visited Kulp Dairy and met with Grace Kulp to hear more about the family business and the farm. Learners saw how many people and jobs it takes to operate a farm. While the smells were tough to take in, the acres and acres of beautiful land were a highlight for learners.  

CPA at farm

“I also became more aware of what actually happens on a farm. I live in the city so I’ve never been exposed to farms, and I’ve always thought that they mistreated animals or didn’t care about them and only the profit. But this farm was totally different and seemed to have so much care for their animals.” — Samantha  

In Cambria/Somerset, the group visited the Cambria County Airport to explore parts of the airport and operations. They got to see all the jobs that make up the airport system and visit the aviation center at the National Guard base. Learners were even able to sit in a helicopter and learn more information about careers in the military. During the afternoon, the Cambria/Somerset group took a trip to University of Pittsburgh Johnstown (UPJ), where they heard important information about college and campus, including available majors, financial aid, and student activity. A current UPJ student gave learners a tour of the campus and provided insight into student life. 

“Going to UPJ was cool because it was actually one of the colleges I am going to apply to. The tour guide was really nice. He seemed to know a lot about the college and answered all our questions. He also took us to places that we would go based on what we said we wanted to major in.” — Evan

Virtual Reflection

Each day of the week, learners take time to reflect on their week and themselves during the virtual rotation. One of the pieces learners have been working on is their Readiness Pathway, a personal narrative that can be used in the future for college applications and professional writing samples. For this, learners answered the questions: Who am I? Who do I want to become? How do I get there? How will I continue to learn? How will I give back to my community?

Last Day Celebration

On Thursday, learners from Pittsburgh and Central PA joined together for the final day of the 2023 Summer Program at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh, as they did on the very first day at the end of June. They heard from incredible speakers, gave their Community Design Challenge presentation, and said their final goodbyes (for now!) to their cohorts.

Throughout the day, learners heard from some amazing speakers:

  • Rachael Banks, director of undergraduate recruitment at University of Pittsburgh
    Rachael started the day with an honest discussion with learners about adjusting to next steps in life, especially if the people in those places don’t look or sound like you. She also talked about her personal journey and gave insight into college life and the admissions process.
  • Dan Webb, assistant executive director of AIU8
    Dan was one of the lead instructors this summer for the Central PA cohorts. He shared his own story about how hard work led him to be where he is today. His takeaway: opportunity + passion + work ethic are the keys to success.
  • Josiah Gilliam, executive director at PUMP
    Josiah has been a favorite speaker at the Readiness Institute since year one. During the last day, he spoke to students about all of the exciting times and opportunities in Pittsburgh right now. He talked about his transition into a new role from the mayor’s office to leading PUMP and shared his vision for the City of Pittsburgh. He told the learners, “I’m optimistic because of rooms like this. It will take all of us to seize the opportunities that are here for us and to create the world we want to see.” He encouraged the group to go out and get new skills, make new connections, and bring their fire back to Pittsburgh to help set things up for the future.

cohort selfie

Many other leaders and partners also shared congratulations and advice for the learners in person and via video message:

“Don’t coast. Finish strong and take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way.” — Megan Nagel, Chancellor at Penn State Greater Allegheny

“Realize the importance of relationships. You’re making so many connections this summer; use them! And continue to be that change. There is so much change in this room.” — Matt Crutchman, Extension Educator for 4-H Youth at Penn State Extension

“Listen to your body.” — Anna, Penn State Extension  

“Always believe in yourself and your ability to make a difference.” — Carly, Central PA Instructor

“This has been the highlight of my professional career. My advice: surround yourself with people who have the same goals and ambitions as you.” — Len, Central PA Instructor 

“I hope all of your dreams come true.” — Morgan, Pittsburgh Instructor

“If your plan doesn’t bring you joy, that’s ok. Take a pause and make a new plan. I’m rooting for you.” — Kaleigh, Pittsburgh Instructor

“Cohort C has kept me smiling all summer. My advice to all of you is to reach out to people. And use your libraries!” — Nora, Pittsburgh Instructor

“The world needs to see this room. My advice is in the words of Winston Churchhill: ‘You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.’” — Bob, Central PA Instructor

“If you hit any obstacles, don’t quit. Keep your dreams alive.” — Larry Terry, Vice President of Penn State Outreach

student presentationThroughout the day, learners showed off the work they’ve been doing all summer with presentations on their Community Design Challenge — to take a global issue and find a local solution. In week two, learners got into groups and selected one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, then spent the next several weeks researching the topic and discussing the WHY, WHO, WHAT, and HOW of making an impact on this goal in their community.

On the final day, learners made presentations to their peers, instructors, and other local leaders:

  • Protecting Planet A: Conner, Deniz, Keagan and Vincent
  • Dealing with Poverty: Cora, Bralynn, Megan
  • Education: Samantha, Chloe, Ethan
  • Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Ally, Evan, Megan
  • Quality Education: Sam, Jack, Emily
  • Good Health and Well-Being: Tori, Dustin, Mercedes
  • A Solution to Poverty: May, Sarmila, Noelle
  • Understanding the Brain: Christiana, Avery, Jezliah, Aleeya
  • Zero Hunger: Tianna, DJ, Ty, Robert
  • Quality Education: Sakesh, Amanada, Julia, Akriti
  • Climate Action Sustainable City Project: Alexus, Amarie, Brandilynn, Eymi, Nolvin
  • Achieving Good Health and Well-being: Aneiah, London, Biji
  • Zero Hunger: Sam, Mo, Anita, Ishan, Sienna
  • The War of Peace and Justice: DeAra, Keyy, Chass, Kam
  • Quality Education: Kenneth, Rithwik, Tatum
  • Gender Inequality: Marley, Bella, Stephan, Audrey
  • No Poverty: Rob, Sharea, Karl, Jalayia

As another 6-weeks of the Readiness Institute Summer Program come to a close, there are 64 new agents of change ready to go back to their schools and communities — to be better learners, to be effective leaders, and to make an impact on the future.  

When I look outside in the city, do you know what I see? You see bridges and buildings and trees. I see you. I see all of you being leaders in the community.

— Justin Aglio

To the 2023 Summer Program learners: This marks the end of an incredible chapter and the beginning of new adventures. Thanks for an amazing experience and we’ll be in touch soon! 

Last Day Photo Gallery

Summer Program 2023 - Last Day Celebration

Pittsburgh Photo Gallery

Summer Program 2023 - Week Six in Pittsburgh

Central PA Photo Gallery

Summer Program 2023 - Week Six in Central PA