Penn Engineering and Steppingstone Scholars are partnering to create Inveniam, a STEM Equity and Innovation Lab that aims to provide underrepresented and underserved students in the Philadelphia area with free STEM resources and programming.
Inveniam will be one of many pathways that Steppingstone Scholars, an educational nonprofit organization for low-income students in Philadelphia, provides to guide local K-12 students towards college completion and career entry.
“The innovation, the technology development, the expertise that is on Penn’s campus is an opportunity to get what we have with Inveniam and Steppingstone into the hands of kids and communities in Philadelphia,” Steppingstone president Sean Vereen said, adding that the joint venture plans to launch various STEM-related initiatives.
Committing to an initial five-year agreement, Penn Engineering and Steppingstone will begin the program with the development of a new blended AP Computer Science course that will begin in the Fall 2021 semester, according to the program press release. Inveniam aims to enroll roughly 3,000 Philadelphia students in this launch course and create similar content for high-level math and physics courses.
“It is quite important to have AP CS credit as it’s becoming extremely valuable in college, and we see that at Penn itself. I think it’s important to give a chance to all the students to give the opportunity to, if they want, take AP credit in high school,” said Assistant Professor of Practice of Computer and Information Science Eric Fouh, who is developing the curriculum for the blended AP CS course. Penn Engineering undergraduates will use the online content modules developed by Fouh and other Penn professors in the classroom to instruct enrolled high schoolers.
Inveniam builds off of an existing partnership between Penn and Steppingstone called the Blended Learning Initiative, which provides students with college-level robotics and coding-related course materials, and focuses on helping them get job certifications in these areas.
The program is looking to add up to 100 new students in the near future.
Three new programs are in the works to augment BLI, including an internship program with Penn Engineering, a blended AP Computer Science course, and a Data Science Scholars program. The latter will be hosted in the state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms of Penn Engineering’s Data Science Building upon its completion in 2024, but the other two programs will be launched much sooner, with the internship program beginning in the summer of 2022 and the AP Computer Science course starting as soon as spring of 2021.
Although Inveniam is the beginning of a relatively new relationship between Penn Engineering and Steppingstone, the organization has collaborated with the University for the past several years through BLI. Since its launch, BLI has involved many members of the Penn community including Gayithri Jayathirtha, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Education who worked with BLI on their summer robotics program for local high schoolers.
“Some of the key pieces that really struck a chord with me was that they [Steppingstone programs] work with students of color, which I think is really important—equity is a big concern in STEM education," Jayathirtha said. "And when I started learning about the program, I could really see how dedicated they were to this cause of supporting students of color and providing opportunities for them to have STEM experience early on, something that many other students may get, but students of color don’t tend to have in their schools.”
Steppingstone will secure corporate engagement outside of Penn to ensure that students are supported in their pursuit of STEM careers after completing college, and Inveniam students will be offered paid internships with Penn Engineering, Vereen said.
Planned partnerships between Inveniam and venture capital and private equity firms will also provide the enrolled students with mentorship and career opportunities deemed necessary to succeed post-graduation through an Internship and Placement Program slated for launch by spring of 2022.
“The push for Inveniam to happen came not only from recent events, but also from people at Penn speaking up and demonstrating an interest in Penn Engineering becoming more involved in the community,” Penn Engineering Associate Director of Community Engagment and Outreach Daniel Miller-Uueda said. “I think the administration at Penn Engineering heard a lot of that interest, and the creation of this initiative is just one way that Penn Engineering is beginning to respond and beginning to recognize its role in the community.”
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