Pittsburgh Promise helps eligible students shine at Carlow

PITTSBURGH – A city’s “Promise” is helping Carlow University students thrive personally and academically.

The Pittsburgh Promise, developed by the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Public Schools, strives to provide graduates of Pittsburgh’s public high schools, regardless of their personal or family income, with a path to higher education institutions throughout Pennsylvania. The program has a wide support network at Carlow University, one of western Pennsylvania’s partnering institutions.

Sophomore Hamadi Mganga said his Pittsburgh Promise internship experience at Carlow gave him not just a summer job, but also a new direction.

Mganga honed several job-related skills this summer while working as an assistant youth counselor at Pittsburgh’s Center That Cares. He is one of four “Keeping the Promise” students at Carlow to complete the internship program.

“I’ve never been used to speaking in front of people, so it was very scary at first. But as time went on and the kids got to know my name, wow, I felt comfortable. My communications skills just kept getting better,” said the human resources major.

At the center, Mganga assisted in teaching a social justice class and a yoga class and helped chaperone a field trip.

“I would check in with counselors in the morning, communicate with them and see what’s planned for the day. That would get me organized and motivated,” he said. “The center has a lot of connections with people and programs that will help you, and I hope to take advantage of that.”

The Pittsburgh Promise “promotes high educational aspirations among urban youth, funds scholarships for post-secondary access, and fuels a prepared and diverse regional workforce,” according to its website.

The internship program is a two-semester process with a spring training on professionalism, resume writing, interviewing, networking and other “soft skills that translate to any environment and any major,” according to Sarah Avery, Carlow’s “promise success coach.” It also includes training on filing taxes.

The program is open to eligible freshmen and sophomores with less than 60 credits.

The internship was a first-time job for sophomore Getsemani Solis-Vasquez, who worked as a community support specialist at the Neighborhood Resilience Project. The biology major worked in every area of the project, from the clinic to the food pantry to the trauma response team.

“It opened my eyes a bit more socially,” Solis-Vasquez said. “I was educated on many social issues not only in our city, but worldwide as well. It taught me the importance of stepping out of whatever field you may be working in and being able to take away some experience from that (new environment).

“This really helped me understand that going into a certain work field may not be just about what you are studying but about having other skills such as communication, organization and independence.”

Father Martin Johnson, chief operating officer of Neighborhood Resilience Project, said both Solis-Vasquez and the center benefited from the internship.

“She brought the openness, the availability and the flexibility to understand everything we do for a person who lives in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County,” Father Johnson said. “She brought the talent and ability to help everywhere she could.

“She took away just how multifaceted and entangled are the lives of those who have less means and those who have tougher roads in life to address.”

Mganga credits Carlow for providing the support and materials needed to succeed.

“Sarah has helped me get organized,” he said. “Last year was a really horrible year for me. She helped me turn it all around.”

“Pittsburgh Promise is more than just getting you internship opportunities, but also help with classes and tutoring. At Carlow, they care for you and want you to succeed.”

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