Hill CEC: Purpose, Skills, & Adapting

What is the Hill CEC?

One of the first questions I was asked during my interview for the S.T.E.A.M. Ambassador position was “what is the relationship between the University of Pittsburgh and the Pitt Community Engagement Center in the Hill District?”. While I obviously know the answer now, I was puzzled at first with how to respond. What is the purpose of the Hill CEC?

What I have come to discover is that the Hill CEC is an extension of the University of the Pittsburgh that is dedicated to providing the Hill District community and its residents with resources that can help them thrive and be resilient. For example, my position as the S.T.E.A.M. Ambassador is a resource provided by the University Honors College to help lower-income students from the Hill District neighborhood receive an extracurricular education and practical experience in STEAM-related fields.

Life as a S.T.E.A.M. Ambassador

My role as the S.T.E.A.M. Ambassador consists of supporting S.T.E.A.M.-related programming at the Hill CEC. I do so by creating flyers to advertise community events hosted by and at the Hill CEC; making phone calls to community members in order to bolster recruitment efforts and participant attendance; attending planning meetings with university faculty and community partners; engaging with students of all ages during our S.T.E.A.M. programming. For example, each Friday I attend a curriculum meeting with faculty from Pitt’s IT department in which we plan and discuss our Bridges to IT program that runs twice a week. I then go in on Thursday evenings to supervise the Bridges to IT class and aid our IT instructors with any programming needs.

However, most of my time at the Hill CEC is dedicated to our once-a-week S.T.E.A.M. Saturday series. This programming offers young students from the Hill District and surrounding neighborhoods an extracurricular education and practical experience in currently six different S.T.E.A.M.-related programs (e.g., robotics, bioengineering, computer programming, etc.). I specifically interact with a small group of girls who participate in our Girls Who Code and BioBots classes, which has allowed me to build more personal and intimate relationships with the participants. One of the things I have begun to notice during the last couple of weeks of programming is that the girls are gradually becoming more alive during our (rather early) classes; asking various questions, joking around with me and the instructors, and becoming more involved with our hands-on activities. This level of engagement and high energy is heartwarming to me because it perfectly demonstrates the purpose of my role at the Hill CEC and the role of the Hill CEC within the Hill District community.

Key skills

Communication is integral to being a S.T.E.A.M. Ambassador and working at the Hill CEC. Each day, I am receiving various tasks from my supervisors, assisting in planning meetings with students and faculty from the University, calling families to bolster recruitment efforts, and engaging with students who are participating in our programs. We often think of communication as another soft skill that should come second to developing “more useful” hard skills – such as data entry or knowledge in programming languages. However, that is far from the truth. Communication is the backbone of any job or internship, especially those that are rooted in community work.

Another important skill involved in my daily operations at the Hill CEC is graphic design. I remember my supervisor distinctly highlighting my background in graphic design as it plays a key role in our recruitment efforts and advertisement of community events. I came into this internship with a high-school-level education in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, but I primarily use CANVA to turn the information I receive from my supervisors into a colorful (more digestible) flyer that will be distributed around the Hill CEC and the community. Here are a few examples of some flyers I have made during my time at the Hill CEC (one includes an ad for two internship positions at the CEC for this summer!):

Adapting to My New Role

I want to acknowledge that these skills are not ones that I had fully developed before applying to this internship position. While I have experience as a camp counselor and in customer service as well as a brief education in graphic design, I underwent a lot of trial-and-error during my first couple months at the CEC.

Honestly, I have only recently been allowed to supervise classes alone because I was uncomfortable and awkward in interacting with the students in our S.T.E.A.M. programming for the first month at the CEC. And as mentioned before, most of my graphic design experience pertained to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and I had never used CANVA before my internship at the Hill CEC.

But I adapted. This position is my first internship and first real experience in community engagement, so I needed to adapt to be more initiative during programming and learn how to use graphic design tools with which I was not familiar.

The S.T.E.A.M. Ambassador position is a great first-experience for anyone who has never had an internship before or has little experience in a professional setting. The Hill CEC not only fosters skills in the participants that take part in our S.T.E.A.M. programming, but it also creates an environment that allows its interns and staff to build and refine skills that are necessary for any internship or job in the industry. I feel myself constantly growing every time I leave the Hill CEC because each day challenges me to adapt and to be more resilient than I was the day before.

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