Monthly Archives: November 2018

Consortium receives grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation

The Consortium is grateful to The Pittsburgh Foundation for a $125,000 grant in support of programming aimed at helping increase college and career readiness among students across the region. 

“We are very appreciative,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “To us, the grant is a vote of confidence that our multi-faceted Future Ready initiative is important not only to students, their schools and educators, but to the community as a whole.”

“With this grant and support from our other funders, we’re expanding opportunities for students to prepare for post-secondary education and careers and we’re supporting educators with resources to help them.”

Consortium welcomes new staffers…

Debbie Pixton

Sarah Jackson

The Consortium has added three new staff members this fall. Debbie Pixton joined us this month as a Program Director focusing on our business/school partnerships and Sarah Jackson joined us in October to manage our Prime Time after- school program in Woodland Hills School District. As previously reported, we also brought Christy Kuehn on board as a Program Director, working across several initiatives.

Debbie brings experience in the area of college and career readiness.  Prior to joining us, she managed the Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network. The network—including school districts, community colleges, state education agencies and nonprofits—cultivated college and career readiness and aimed to ensure that a majority of northern Illinois graduates would obtain college degrees or other high quality post-secondary credentials.

Debbie’s work in the nonprofit and education sectors began in Pittsburgh with the Arts Education Collaborative where she managed professional development programs for arts educators, including the Leadership Academy, department self-assessments, and curriculum writing.

She is passionate about learning and sharing that passion with students. Debbie also loves to make connections across sectors and silos as a means of creating synergies and enabling collaboration.

She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Illinois Wesleyan University and a Master of Arts Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University.

An advocate and mentor for youth, Sarah is a natural to head the after-school program. With a background in the arts, including stage performance, poetry and photography, she brings creativity to the job and the experience of growing up in an underserved district. She’s a 2012 alumnus of Wilkinsburg High School. She also attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC where she pursued her passion for poetry as a member of the campus chapter of the Black Ink Monk P.O.E.T. (Profound Orators of Elevated Thinking) society.

Christy Kuehn

She has since performed as a spoken word artist locally at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and Sherwood Events Center as well as venues in Charlotte and Washington D.C.   Sarah also has taught therapeutic poetry workshops and worked as a photographer and D.J.

Just to follow up on last month’s profile of Christy, we already think of her as an old-hand at the Consortium! Many of you have no doubt met her as she began work with our Future Ready Alliance, the Student Powered Solutions program, Educator in the Workforce and the High School Collaborative we launched in partnership with PNC Financial Group.



Nominate a Champion today!

Is it a teacher or librarian who finds innovative and challenging ways to engage every student? Is it a cafeteria worker who gives kids extra encouragement, a volunteer who mentors youth or a working professional who talks to a classroom about career paths?

We all know someone like this. These Champions of Learning use their personal time, resources, and talents to support learning and inspire youth. They’re the adults youth remember for pulling them out of rough situations, pushing them to do better, and inspiring them to keep going.

Please help us give these special individuals the recognition they deserve.

We are taking nominations for the annual Champions of Learning Awards to be presented May 2, 2019. The awards event is a collaboration between the Consortium and United Way’s Be There! campaign, which recognizes adults in western Pennsylvania who go above and beyond to create opportunities and motivate students to reach their greatest potential.

Please submit your candidate no later than January 11 using  this nomination form.

Boston University researcher advocates Individual Learning Plans

The number of states mandating or encouraging Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) has risen to 37 from 22 in the past decade. Although Pennsylvania isn’t one of them, research shows ILPs are worth considering, Boston University Professor Scott Solberg told attendees at a workshop the Consortium cohosted in November with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory (REL).

A well-developed ILP helps students explore their interests, set personal goals and map academic plans for pursuing them. As a result, districts using ILPs find that “students take ownership” of their own learning, Solberg said.

Correctly structured, ILPs encompass both a document and a process. The document maps out courses and post-secondary plans aligned with a student’s career aspirations. It also details the college and career readiness skills a student is developing.

The process is a progression of career advising lessons that help students establish career and life goals; plan their high school courses; and develop plans for post-secondary education, careers and self-management.

With the document and process in place, “Every year, students will be re-examining the possibilities, asking themselves ‘Who am I? and What do I like to do?’,” Solberg said.

“Once students establish goals, watch out,” he added. “They’ll start moving forward, they’ll take over the learning process. Career goals drive college readiness. Kids take the academics they need when they have a goal.”

Motivated by their own goals, students also are more inclined to reach beyond classroom lessons. They seek out tools they can use on their own, including online resources like Kahn Academy. They might even begin challenging perceived deficiencies in their own schools, Solberg added.

Aware that math was crucial to their plans, one classroom of students in Minnesota, for example, petitioned their administration for a new math teacher, he noted. “That’s what happens when you realize you have competency and voice.”

Solberg said some of the most successful implementations of ILPs have been in schools that also converted their parent-teacher conferences into student-led discussions.

“It’s the single, most powerful tool for making this work,” he said, noting that the value of the ILPs and conferences impressed businesses enough in one Wisconsin community that managers encouraged parents to plan time off to attend.

Detailing research findings, Solberg said that ILPs have demonstrated that they lead to higher academic self-efficacy; higher career decision-making readiness; lower psychological and emotional distress; lower academic stress and greater motivation to attend school.

For districts and schools considering them, he suggested starting small, with a single grade level, for example. “If you do it well, there will be a tipping point” when the ILPs will begin to change the culture, bringing about understanding that school is “not about test scores, it’s about launching adults.”


Educator in the Workforce attendees again told many solid career paths can be created without college degrees

It would be extreme to call it a sea change, but there’s undoubtedly a shift in thinking about whether college should be the K-12 goal for all, or even most, students. The reasons hit home for Debbie Reynolds, a Science teacher from Baldwin Whitehall School District, when she visited Covestro as a participant in our Educator in the Workforce program. 

“There are so many really good opportunities where it’s not needed and there are kids who just don’t want to go,” she said.

Social pressures often lead students who should consider other pathways to seek degrees, only to drop out, often with debt, Reynolds added. “My own son is one of them.”

Covestro, a leading maker of high-tech polymers, was the third and latest in a series of immersion experiences we’ve offered this fall through Educator in the Workforce. Previous sessions—one held in partnership with Mascaro Construction and another at NEP Group, the nation’s largest provider of broadcast production services—also challenged what’s long been conventional wisdom on college.

While all three have lots of opportunities for college graduates, what struck many educators during the immersion sessions was how many opportunities each also offers for applicants without four year degrees.

At Covestro’s North American headquarters and primary R&D facility in Robinson, for example, the company hires most chemical lab techs with certificates or associates degrees. It also recruits candidates for many jobs who have accrued experience that supplants the need for an academic credential.

Sometimes, in the company’s labs where technicians need not only to understand chemistry, but also repair or reconfigure bench-scale production equipment, the company is looking as much for people who “are good with their hands, like someone who works on their own car” as it is for chemistry students, said Jack Reese, Director of Process Research in the polyurethane laboratory. “We can teach some of the chemistry, we can’t teach manual dexterity.”

Similarly, at NEP, Chief Engineer Dan Turk said the company isn’t so much looking for degrees as it is for “what people have done.” If they’ve thrown themselves into technology as a hobby or have other related experience, it’s a big plus for pursuing technical jobs with the company. Additionally, NEP looks for problem-solvers. Applicants interested in production don’t need to be math whizzes, but they need to have “an engineering mindset,” Turk said.

What’s more, all three companies that have participated so far in Educator in the Workforce said that even without degrees, most entry-level employees will find opportunities to advance.

“Almost all jobs at Covestro offer career paths,” Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist Wilmus told attendees at her company’s session.She noted there’s an employee currently heading one of the company’s business units who started as an administrative assistant. Wilmus also said that the company offers tuition reimbursement to employees who want to build more knowledge for their jobs, or get degrees that will help them advance within the company.

Like other companies that have participated in Educator in the Workforce, Covestro is facing the hiring challenges that come with an aging workforce. Over the next 10 years, the headquarters and lab will lose 300 to retirement, more than a third of their current staff, said STEM Coordinator Ben Renwick, who promotes STEM careers for Covestro.

All three hosts for Educator in the Workforce have said many of the jobs where hiring shortages already are occurring are skilled trades, from welding to carpentry.

Like NEP and Mascaro, Covestro also is looking for skills that college degrees can’t guarantee.

“The top skills gap is in soft skills,” Wilmus said, noting the company screens for communications and other soft skills in a variety of ways, including behavioral testing in which job applicants are asked how they would handle different problems in different scenarios.

“It’s also not unusual for Covestro to ask applicants to present a Power Point,” on why they want the jobs they’re seeking and what makes them good candidates, Wilmus added.

Such details about the hiring process that educators learned from Covestro and other employers are important, said Christy Chicklo, Special Education Coordinator in South Allegheny School District.  “It’s been great for me to be able to come here and learn what skills the kids need so that I can help them.