Over a month ago, I began my internship as the S.T.E.A.M. Ambassador in the Pitt CEC in the Hill District. Much of my work focuses on supporting the staff at the CEC with their operations: interacting with visitors, creating marketing materials, and liaising with community organizations and student groups at the University of Pittsburgh, identifying resources at the University of Pittsburgh to complements the CEC’s Digital Equity and Inclusion efforts through the S.T.E.A.M Studio. The most exciting aspect of the internship is helping in the establishment of a S.T.E.A.M. Studio.
The S.T.E.A.M Studio began with a simple question, how can the potential of STEAM move beyond the individual. How can STEAM be scaled to catalyze change in neighborhoods, communities, and economies? Community organizers and developers in the Hill District recognized that the proximity of the Hill District to the University of Pittsburgh and corporate districts, some of the main drivers of the STEAM economy in Southwestern Pennsylvania, provided a unique opportunity to revitalize their development through STEAM.
The Hill District STEAM Task Force, led by the Hill Community Development Corporation (Hill CDC), undertook a community development planning process in 2016 to explore this potential. Alongside the community, the Hill CDC developed the New Granada STEAM plan, bridging the gap between community development efforts like workforce development and STEAM innovation. At the center of this plan would be the New Granada Theatre, a prominent jazz venue through the late 1920s and 1950s.
The University of Pittsburgh opened its engagement center in the Hill District in 2018. The Pitt CEC in the Hill focussed on using STEAM to engage and support younger community members. The following year, the Pitt CEC in the Hill recognized the STEAM studio as a key component in the Hill CDC’s New Granda Square development plan. Housed in the redeveloping New Granda Theatre, the STEAM studio would serve as a place for intergenerational education, business incubation, workforce development, creativity, and more. The STEAM studio would also serve as an anchor for redeveloped spaces like a theatre, restaurant, and apartments. The New Granda theatre has twenty thousand square feet of space dedicated to the Pitt CEC and the STEAM Studio. It also features dedicated spaces for poetry, jazz, small business development, and education programs.
The Pitt CEC in the Hill and the Hill CDC outlined a process to actualize the STEAM Studio Dream. A planning team consisting of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Creativity, Partner4Woke, and Remake Learning, lead four STEAM Studio planning sessions: bringing together 24 programs from Pitt and 20 neighborhood organizations and members. They explored the various challenges facing the Studio in the future, economic development. With the vision of fostering partnerships that harness the educational, economic, and cultural power of STEAM, they brainstormed dynamic, collaborative programming. They also offered grant opportunities to fund potential programs.
The STEAM Studio began offering programs in the fall of 2020; the remaining programs will launch throughout 2021. The physical space for the STEAM Studio will open in 2022 when the New Granada Theater is open.
A couple of weeks into my internship, it was a privilege to sit in on a session of Girls Who Code: a national organization that hopes to close the gender gap in technology and reimagine the image and purpose of a programmer. The S.T.E.A.M Studio has been working with the Pitt Chapter of Girls Who Code; several months before my arrival. The classes, led by students from the University of Pittsburgh School of Computing and Information, worked with a cohort of young girls, teaching them about the fundamentals of coding using a block-based programming language called Scratch. I sat in on the hour-long meeting, observing how the lesson would shape out. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of engagement from the students. I had grown accustomed to staring into the void of a Zoom room while a professor lectures; this was not the case. Despite the class starting at 10 am on a Saturday, most students had their cameras on, and they participated actively. They answered and asked various questions about looping.
Eve, one of the students, completely stole the show. She was eager to demonstrate her knowledge and general enthusiasm for coding, going as far as to discuss how she would continue coding even after the program had concluded.
In the last half hour of the class, students met D’Yanna Craighead: Senior Manager of Technology Program Management for Disney Cruise Line. She detailed her experiences being a woman in STEM, retelling a story about how she entered a computer science class as both the only black student and only woman. Despite the difficulty of the computer science course, she fell in love with computer science. It motivated her to continue her studies as a computer scientist. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and would work for companies such as IBM, Accenture, AT&T, Delta Air Lines, and then Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products. At Disney, she worked on integrating technology throughout the guest experience. She assisted in implementing MyMagic+ technology at Walt Disney World, MaxPass technologies in Disneyland, Digital FastPass in Tokyo Disney Resort, and Virtual Queue for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.
The students were not as interested in the career trajectory of Ms. Craighead as much as they were in her place of employment. After some inquiries about her role at Disney, the students discussed their own experiences with Disney. Those who had visited a Disney amusement park asked Ms. Craighead if she had worked on technology in their hotel. Others expressed their wish to visit Disneyworld when the pandemic is over. Some shared how their plans to visit Disneyworld had fallen through due to unfortunate circumstances.
Although I witnessed the last session of the program, I could observe the impact the experience had on their lives. They were eager to learn more and inquired if the program would return. Some wanted to inform their friends about their experience, so they could also partake in the lessons.
I stayed after the lesson to listen to how the experience had affected the Pitt students who facilitated the program. All the students expressed their joy at being able to impact the lives of these young girls. Despite the difficulty of the first few weeks, they grew as a team, learning how to create lessons that would resonate with the students. They created an environment where the young girls felt comfortable to turn on their cameras and participate actively in each of the lessons. They learned how to tailor lessons to the aptitude of the group.
I learned to appreciate the effort it takes to create a program and the dedication needed to administer the program in its entirety. Despite the challenges you may face, in the end, it is all worth it. You can be part of a journey to realize the potential. No matter how small a role you may play, you part of the journey, and you can be proud of that.