Pittsburgh Promise reaches out to those who didn't use scholarship money
November 17, 2016 12:00 AM
Antonio Rosa, Brashear class of 2013, talks with Gene Walker, workplace development director with the Pittsburgh Promise, on Tuesday about a new training initiative offered by the organization.
Antonio Rosa, Brashear class of 2013, explores a new training initiative offered by the Pittsburgh Promise.
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two years after high school graduation, Jessica Bethune wound up working at Piercing Pagoda at the Century III Mall in West Mifflin wondering what to do next.
Health problems led the 2014 Pittsburgh Allderdice graduate to drop out of Slippery Rock University after one semester. Adrift, the 20-year-old considered going back to school but was unsure of what to pursue or how to get there.
Then in September Ms. Bethune, of Lincoln Place, saw a brochure in the mail from The Pittsburgh Promise, a gentle reminder that her high school GPA and attendance record had earned her a scholarship she could still use and an invitation to apply for an eight-week pilot program to help her ease back into school — or at least get excited about it again.
Just five weeks in, she decided to become an ultrasound technician, with the eventual goal of studying diagnostic medical stenography.
“We’re all kind of working toward the same thing,” she said of the program, “and you know that you’re not the only one in this position, trying to figure out what to do.”
Since 2008, The Pittsburgh Promise has awarded more than 7,100 scholarships worth more than $91 million. About 1,600 Pittsburgh Public Schools graduates have earned some sort of credential after school and 2,800 are still enrolled.
But Ms. Bethune is just one of more than 2,000 students who graduated between 2012 and 2015 Promise-eligible but either never used the award or started some higher education and stopped for any number of reasons. The cost of the eight-week offering, and at least part of a future certificate, trade or college program, will be covered by the money “left on the table,” said Promise executive director Saleem Ghubril. (For Ms. Bethune, it’ll pay for a driver’s ed course, too, a step toward getting her license.) Graduates of the class of 2012 still have a year’s worth of scholarship money left.
“We’re not being charitable here. We’re saying, ‘Listen, this money is yours,’” Mr. Ghubril said.
The Promise sent brochures and emails about the program to the approximately 2,000 eligible graduates — scholarships before 2012 are no longer available — and of those, 65 showed interest. Gene Walker, Promise director of workforce development, interviewed 25, and 17 committed. The goal, he said, to encourage students to enter an industry-specific training program, restore their interest in education or simply expose them to well-paying, entry-level jobs.
The first four weeks of the program consisted of four-hour classes, three days a week, centering on soft skills and professional development taught by Community College of Allegheny County instructors. Once-weekly site visits to employers where students learned about career options and networked rounded out the week. Individual meetings to help develop the students’ career plan will cap off the final half of the program.
“It’s important for us as an organization to make sure we don’t forget about students, we don’t let them disappear,” said Mr. Walker, who will meet periodically with the students over the next 18 months. “They’re still our kids.”
The Promise team will take the rest of 2016 to evaluate the pilot and begin recruiting for the next round of students in January.
”It’s great that they’re reaching back to get these students and changing life prospects for many of them,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh.
Another member of the inaugural training program, Antonio Rosa, of the West End, graduated from Pittsburgh Brashear High School in 2013. He went to Slippery Rock but left after a year finding “it wasn’t for me,” and is now working with people with intellectual disabilities at Achieva.
Before his one-on-one with Mr. Walker on Tuesday, Mr. Rosa, 22, said he was nervous thinking how he’ll take the next step toward becoming a nursing assistant. He’d like to work for UPMC someday. But he said he felt hopeful that Mr. Walker would be a resource to him for months to come.
“If you don’t have the chance to go to college, or if you dropped out, I think this is the best thing to get into because it can really help you explore the opportunities that you can have for jobs without a degree,” Mr. Rosa said.
Last week, the Pittsburgh Promise has announced $8.8 million in new funding for the scholarship program for Pittsburgh Public Schools graduates, pushing it to 77 percent of its 10-year, $250 million fundraising goal.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944.
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