Seizing the summer: A vibrant start to Readiness Institute Summer Discovery 2024

“Meet opportunities where they are; don’t wait for them to come to you.” That was the powerful advice from Lynn Banaszak to more than 60 high school students who are part of the fourth year of the Readiness Institute Summer Discovery. Banaszak, Global Head of Inclusive Strategies and Initiatives at Amazon, was one of the guest speakers for the opening day of the program on Monday, June 24, at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh.

Students from five counties and more than 50 high schools across the Commonwealth gathered together to kick off the transformative six-week Summer Discovery program, including 45 learners from Pittsburgh and 32 learners from Central Pennsylvania. The day began with introductions and insights from regional leaders, industry experts, and past participants, setting the stage for a summer of growth and discovery.

Summer Discovery students sit in the Energy Innovation Building and listen to Dr. Justin Aglio talk.Dr. Justin Aglio, Executive Director of the Readiness Institute, set a clear tone for the program, urging students to simply “show up” and seize the plethora of opportunities awaiting them this summer — internships, career pathways, college connections, and more. He quoted the late Pittsburgh and Penn State icon Franco Harris, saying, sometimes all it takes is “the right place, the right time, and a little bit of luck.”

Dana Harris, another guest speaker, inspired students and shared wisdom gleaned from her life alongside Franco Harris. She emphasized the importance of resilience, positivity, and leadership in navigating life’s twists and turns. Her message struck a chord with students, encouraging them to view challenges as opportunities for personal growth and development.

The day also included a blast from the past, as 2023 Summer Discovery alum Anita spoke to learners and reflected on her own transformative experience with the program. She offered sage advice: Connect with speakers, explore new possibilities, and savor the moments (like her personal favorite — enjoying some famous Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream).

In an engaging afternoon session, Alexis Walker and David Hutchinson from the Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office led students through a Capital Budget Simulation, challenging them to make impactful decisions as future civic leaders. Learners were directed to “spend” $1 million on city projects, such as maintaining city-owned lots during the summer, re-opening a closed city pool, hiring 100+ teen interns, adding an affordable 2br, creating a neighborhood plan, and others.

Two Summer Discovery students have a conversation.

Later in the day, students participated in a design challenge, responding to the question, “What are the readiness skills (characteristics, knowledge, skills, and dispositions) needed to be successful as you transition from high school to postsecondary life?” They came up with their ideas and got into groups to discuss and come up with the ones they thought were most important. Responses included attitude, networking, inclusivity, confidence, discipline, authenticity, communication, leadership, and more.

As the day drew to a close, students split into their cohort teams, eagerly anticipating the diverse array of on-site, off-site, and virtual activities ahead — ranging from industry speakers and workshops to local field trips and community service initiatives. The atmosphere was electric with optimism and camaraderie, setting the stage for a summer filled with learning, exploration, and personal growth.

Dr. Aglio captured the spirit of the day perfectly when he asked students to look outside and see not just the scenery and bridges and buildings, but the vast opportunities before them. “I see opportunity,” he exclaimed. “I see you, right here, right now, ready to embrace it all.”

Opening Day Photo Gallery

Summer Discovery 2024 - Kickoff