Pittsburgh Promise intern Julie Allen with friend and fellow student Brandy Hill. Brandy is a Promise scholar now majoring in English at Geneva College.
Human services major Julie Allen didn't want just any internship. She wanted an experience that would change her life and make a difference in the lives of real people. She found exactly what she was looking for in the Pittsburgh Promise.
Launched in 2007, the Pittsburgh Promise is a non-profit organization that offers financial aid to high-school students from any of the Pittsburgh Public schools. Under the leadership of Saleem Ghubril, executive director, and a board of directors chaired by Franco Harris, famed former running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Promise has vision to transform Pittsburgh communities through education. Julie’s internship involves working as a research assistant to Ghubril.
“The Promise is definitely the kind of non-profit I hope to work for in the future. Under the leadership of Saleem, a team of determined and passionate professionals work to bring about long-term, systemic changes through education and community development. Real change is happening in the city,” she says.
Through the Pittsburgh Promise, each student who graduates from one of the Pittsburgh Public School system is eligible to receive up to $5,000 each year for four years of college. The student must have been a resident of Pittsburgh and the school district since ninth grade, hold a minimum 2.5 GPA and a 90% attendance record. The scholarship can be applied to any public or private post-secondary school in Pennsylvania that offers two-year or four-year degree programs.
Students who don't meet the requirements aren't instantly passed over. If a student briefly moves out of the school district and returns or does not meet the GPA requirement, a compassion appeal may be filed. The student formally explains in writing why he or she hasn't met the requirements for reconsideration.
Julie explains that the Pittsburgh Promise is more than just a scholarship program. The staff works with students and parents to help with applications, FAFSA forms and preparation for college.
“The long term goal is to get people to move back into the city and to reenergize the economy because the Pittsburgh population has declined so rapidly,” says Julie.
Dr. Brad Frey, professor of sociology at Geneva College, confirms, “It’s really an attempt to renovate Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods through reforming its schools, and it’s a remarkable experiment. It is really unlike anything else that’s going on in the country. The idea is that you have to do something that reverses the trend of people, particularly the middle class, leaving the city. You can't renovate the neighborhoods if people that have jobs and buy homes keep leaving the city.”
In December 2007, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) offered the Promise a matching grant of $100 million over a seven-year period, making it possible to issue 1,300 scholarships for the first time in the 2008-09 school year.
“The theory behind the whole thing is to reinvigorate the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh by renovating the schools,” says Frey.
Because most of Julie’s work is research based, she doesn't get to interact with students. “I don't know if I'll ever meet the students, unfortunately, but they do have huge posters and artwork that the students have done on the walls in the office. I feel like I'm connected to them because I'm hearing their stories and I'm reading what they've said and seeing their pictures and their artwork.”
Julie has seen much overlap in her education at Geneva College and her work at the Promise.
“My sociology classes have taught me to look forward and backward, seeing Christ's plan for redemption in me, and in the world,” she says. “I have been taught and shown by the choices and lifestyles of my professors how to see the world with hope, and to work toward a renewed creation. My internship at the Promise has been a way to experience firsthand the redemptive quality of God at work in people's lives. The students who receive scholarships from the Promise not only receive quality education and a path to a bright future, but they experience the molding of God's hands on His creation through education and personal growth.”