Employer Engagement

Project Ready: Preparing At-Risk Students for College Success and STEM Careers

Stephanie Nellons-Paige, USA FundsBy Stephanie Nellons-Paige, Senior Director, Metro Engagement and Relations, USA Funds

Since its inception in 2006, Project Ready has helped thousands of African-American and other urban youth prepare for college and the work world. A major initiative of the National Urban League, Project Ready offers academic, social and civic engagement opportunities to help middle and high school students develop “readiness” — that is, gain the knowledge and perspective required to get into and through college. In 2010, the NUL expanded Project Ready’s scope, challenging participants, who range in age from 11 to 18, to pursue studies and careers in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Notably, Project Ready’s STEM program is specifically geared to serve at-risk and other vulnerable youth, including students attending under-resourced or underperforming schools, court-involved youth, and students who would be the first in their families to attend college. Project Ready: STEM encourages students’ interest and capabilities in the sciences via a vigorous after-school program. Each month, students participate in 25 hours of STEM-focused activities, including formal and informal STEM instruction, project-based learning, mentoring, and critically important engagement with role models in STEM-related fields. Students also gain skills in using digital tools and go on college tours.

This year, USA Funds will be supporting an expansion of Project Ready: STEM, which already has been piloted or implemented by a number of NUL affiliates, including:

  • Chicago Urban League
  • Houston Area Urban League
  • Minneapolis Urban League
  • Springfield Urban League (Illinois)
  • Urban League of Greater Chattanooga
  • Urban League of Greater Cleveland
  • Urban League of Greater New Orleans
  • Urban League of Rochester (New York)
  • Urban League of Springfield (Massachusetts)

In addition to giving at least 90 more students the opportunity to develop an interest and aptitude for the sciences, the USA Funds grant will support program planning to investigate expansion into at least one more urban area.

Stephanie Nellons-Paige (standing second from left) announced USA Funds’ support of the National Urban League’s Project Ready initiative to middle and high school students attending the NUL’s Youth Leadership Summit on Aug. 1, 2015.

The Project Ready curriculum relies on evidenced-based standards and proven, practical tools that have been especially designed for students who live in the challenged neighborhoods of America’s cities. Its efforts already have seen an increase in year-to-year grade promotion and college acceptance rates among its participants. The Project Ready: STEM initiative is fairly new but does hold promise. For example: Before-and-after surveys of 178 girls of color who participated in the Greater Chattanooga program, found a significant increase in the number of girls who were expressly interested in pursuing a STEM career — from 39 percent to 59 percent.

Research shows that black and Hispanic minority students are less likely than white or Asian students to take higher-level math and science classes in high school — the courses they need to be competitive in the 21st century workforce. Both the National Urban League and USA Funds are keen to help at-risk youth explore math, science and technology. Project Ready: STEM is creating opportunities for underserved, urban adolescents and teens to develop the abilities, skills and confidence levels needed not only to be college ready but also ready and eager to take on those in-demand, high-tech careers.

Related posts:

Tracking the Causes of Disconnection

The Mayors’ Playbook for Aiding At-Risk Youth

The Employer-College Disconnect

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