Empowering Dreams: The Impact of STEM Grants on Student Success

By Ana Kay Yaghoubian, Director, Building for Success in School and Life and Brittany Boyd, Communications & Social Media Coordinator

Clark Cekus, a student at Bethel Park High School, dreams of joining the Air Force. The STEM School Champions program powered by Arconic is giving him a head start on this dream, offering valuable hands-on experience with scientific technology and laying a solid foundation for his future career goals.

In October 2023, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania awarded $140,000 in grants to 14 schools in our region, benefiting nearly 5,000 students. This funding, made possible by the Arconic Foundation, aims to enhance STEM programs across the region, giving students like Clark access to unique resources and learning opportunities.

Upon hearing about the STEM School Champions grant program, Bethel Park technology education teacher Brad Kszatowski  applied for funding for equipment that would “tie all the subjects in the school together.” With the support of Mandi Figliolli, coordinator of curriculum school and instruction for Bethel Park School District, the application was successful, allowing the school to acquire a drone, slow-motion camera, infrared camera and a borescope. These scientific tools serve multiple purposes, making connections between various fields of study while broadening students’ career prospects.

“This grant allowed us to go above and beyond. We want to connect kids to careers in trades and sciences, and these resources will help us do just that,” says Figliolli.

The equipment has already been put to good use, with the drone aiding in capturing aerial views that help students see and study large-scale areas. The drone images were used in the school’s Blue Ribbon award application which is an award that affirms the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content. The slow-motion camera reveals hidden details by slowing down fast-paced events, while the infrared camera measures heat, a factor in manufacturing and safety inspections. The borescope, often used in engineering, allows students to visually inspect areas that would otherwise be hard to reach.

Access to this new STEM technology has created excitement among students and teachers. It’s not just about the equipment—it’s about the opportunities that come with it. “Having access to the United Way grant shows that others value education and support our mission,” Mr. Kszatowski explained. “It shows the trust placed on us as teachers to ensure that this grant is used wisely and that we make a lasting impact on our students’ lives.”

With this fund, Clark and his peers have the tools they need to explore STEM fields and achieve their dreams. Thanks to the support of Arconic Foundation and United Way, Bethel Park High School is a thriving environment where innovation and education meet, opening doors to bright futures.