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Changing the Face of STEM in Pittsburgh
The diverse students of Nazareth Prep prepare to break into growing industries.
 
 
(Pictured: Paul Covington, graduate on his graduation day in June, 2018. Covington is accepting his diploma from President and CEO Sister Linda Yankoski)
 
Pittsburgh’s status as a burgeoning tech hub could mean an influx of job opportunities over the coming years – but will the city’s young people have equitable access to these new careers? Nationwide, African Americans are underrepresented in the fastest-growing and highest-paid sectors, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). At one STEM-driven Pittsburgh high school, however, African American students are in the majorityNazareth Prep is dedicated to bridging the education-to-employment skills gap for students of all backgrounds.

recent student by Georgetown University found that, while African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only eight percent of general engineering majors, seven percent of mathematics majors and five percent of computer engineering majors at college and universities. The authors note, “African Americans who choose majors in well-paying, growing fields are likely to be better positioned to get higher paying jobs. This is especially important to a demographic group that historically has been deprived of opportunities and had fewer economic assets...”

At Nazareth Prep, the 80 percent African-American student body is preparing for those in-demand positions. The STEM-focused curriculum emphasizes real-world rigor through project-based learning and hands-on experiences at Network Campus partners like the Citizen Science Lab. Students design solutions to real challenges in Pittsburgh communities using tools like the school’s Social Action and Innovation Laboratory (SAIL), an MIT-approved fabrication facility. 

Starting freshman year, students also spend one full day per week at internships provided by the school’s 85-plus partners, where they have the opportunity to explore possible future careers, make connections, and build skills.

African-American student Paul Covington, who graduated in the spring of 2018, made the most of his senior-year internship at Hussey Copper, where his tasks included a project to redesign the hot-quench assembly. “He looks like he’s been working here a decade,” remarked his internship supervisor, Russ Greenfield. After graduating, Covington returned to the site of a previous internship, MSA Safety Company, for an apprenticeship that will earn him an electro-mechanical technical certificate while he also takes classes toward a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Nazareth Prep students following in his footsteps will have the chance to gain even more of a head-start thanks to the school’s new Mechatronics Pre-apprenticeship. The first certified pre-apprenticeship in western Pennsylvania, this program, created in collaboration with MSA Safety and the Pittsburgh chapter of the German-American Chamber of Commerce, will enable students to begin earning a technical certificate while still in high school. 

“We believe that every young person deserves the chance to pursue a fulfilling, well-paying career,” says principal Joe Oliphant. “Helping our students forge pathways to these careers will benefit not only them but also their communities and the region as a whole. Many of our students hail from communities that are underrepresented in the fastest-growing sectors, and their voices need to be heard. The diversity of perspective and experience they will bring to their workplaces is going to enhance the vitality, adaptability and sustainability of the industries that are shaping our future.”

 

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About Nazareth Prep: Nazareth Prep is a progressive, independent Catholic high school focused on college and career readiness. The school partners with families and uses evidence-based practices to equip each student for success. Through a real-world rigorous yet personalized college preparatory program and unique internship program, Nazareth Prep students build skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

 

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