Building STEPS creates educational opportunities for students in Baltimore

By: Clare Mathis, Contributing Writer

Building STEPS, a nonprofit organization in Baltimore works to help STEM professionals through providing necessary tools for success in college and beyond. 

The program works with underprivileged students from 15 different public high schools in Baltimore, MD.  According to Building STEPS, 87% of students are the first in their family to earn a college degree.

Program associate and alumni of Building STEPS, Asia Cole, begins recruiting students their sophomore year of high school. 

Cole said she looks at students holistically. An ideal candidate has a GPA of a 3.0 or higher and an interest in science and math, but they also look at students who are in good standings with their teachers and have an ambition to attend college. 

Building STEPS offers five programs that begin junior year of high school and follow through their college career.  These services include junior seminars, summer and college experience, college connect and alumni services. 

For the first time, these services are being extended to sophomores.  Chief Executive Officer, Debra Hettleman, said she hopes starting a year earlier will have stronger college and career outcomes for students.

“The tenth graders will get more academic enrichment, college prep, and persistence work,” Hettleman said.

According to Cole, what she likes most about working for Building STEPS is being able to give back to Baltimore students. 

“The most rewarding part for me is being a resource for them,” Cole said. “Making myself available to them if they have questions, giving them that same knowledge that was poured into me is really rewarding.”

Hettleman said that her favorite part of running this program is seeing students develop throughout their time there. 

She told a story about how she found a student’s goal sheet from when he was in high school.  His goal was to be a doctor, and today, with the help of Building STEPS, he is. 

Recently, the sophomores visited TU’s campus. Steve Kimble, clinical assistant professor, gave students a tour of the new Science Complex.  They saw different laboratories and saw a planetarium show.  An admissions representative spoke with students about how to make themselves a strong applicant.

Zion Lewis is a student in Building STEPS interested in aerospace engineering who participated in the tour.

“I love the [Science Complex],” Lewis said. “The physical building, I thought it was gorgeous. I definitely can see myself coming here.”

To expose students to possible career paths, the summer experience program allows high school seniors to have a summer internship.  First, students undergo professional development to prepare for entering a professional setting. Students have interned at Towson University, the National Aquarium and Johns Hopkins to name a few.

Cole said that her summer internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center was the most pivotal part of Building STEPS for her.

“I got to shadow a speech pathologist,” Cole said. “I really just enjoyed my rotation there and I saw myself going into that profession. That was the moment I figured out what I wanted to go to school for.”

According to Cole, her senior year of high school students engaged in college workshops.  They learned about financial aid and were encouraged to start applying for school.  They also learn about possible challenges they may face freshman year of college and how to overcome those.

“Access to opportunities, scholarships, and grants,” Cole said. “Things that I didn’t know anything about, things my parents didn’t know anything about.”

The program doesn’t end once students are enrolled in college. Students receive care packages, videos reminding them about important deadlines and visitations.

“The idea is to keep them connected,” Hettleman said. “We want them to know that we’re still here.”

Alumni also extend their services by helping recent college graduates with their resume, cover letters, and if they can assist them in the job hunt.  They also host professional developments.

Visit the Building STEPS website to learn more about the program.

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