Shaping the future of America: Doctoral Student, Maureen Anderson

Charter school teachers start doctoral program at Point Park University in order to design and create a new technology and trades charter school in the Pittsburgh area.

By: Autumn Barszczowski

Charter school teachers Maureen Anderson and Angela Musto were chatting one day on a subway ride about wanting to prepare students for careers through process-based learning.

The concept is unlike vocational schools, although still aims to support students who learn better with hands-on experiences.

“[They are] what we see as the foundation for America… not just the laborers,” said Musto.

These teachers are pursuing doctorates in education at Point Park University and competing in a new school contest with hopes of establishing a charter school in Pittsburgh that will accomplish just that.

Musto is from Normalville, Pa., and earned her Bachelor of Science degree at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her master’s at Capella University.

Meanwhile, Anderson grew up in Beaver County, Pa., and earned her bachelor’s degree at the main campus of Pennsylvania State University and her master’s at Robert Morris University, including her teaching certification.

Anderson is still working for a successful downtown Pittsburgh charter school as an activities manager and science teacher/educational leader along with Musto.

They are both currently pursuing doctorates in order to create a school that would prepare those students for careers after graduation.

As they study for their doctorates of education at Point Park, they are laying out the designs for a new high school called Career Tech Charter School. This school will be a technology and trade focused school that works to educate students through hands-on experiences and project-based learning.

The charter school project started in the fall of 2014, on a subway ride into downtown Pittsburgh. Anderson, an activities manager at a downtown charter school, decided to share her idea with a fellow teacher, Musto, a physics and educational administrator,  someone who she knew would give her honest criticism. Her idea was about a charter focused on catering to students who need more hands-on experiences in learning.

However, instead of offering criticism, Musto just replied that she was in, that she wanted to be a part of the project that would work to bring this school to life.

Musto, agreeing to take part, gave Anderson the motivation to create a plan that would help them to achieve their goals of forming Career Tech.

While establishing the foundation of this school, they realized that the school they were picturing was not traditional.

“It’s not a vo-tech school and it’s not a career tech ed school. It’s sort of a synthesis of a variety of schools put together. A more innovative and more in line with disruptive education,” said Anderson.

She discussed that this would be process-based learning where they have a way to learn trade skills that are not taught as much anymore and that they would be able to earn an associate’s degree or certificate while going through high school.

This would help students to feel so empowered when they graduated to either continue their education or have the resources to jump right into their career field.

Anderson has gone through a series of her own careers since high school, from a worker of the federal government, to a career readiness teacher as well as an activities manager at an award-winning downtown Pittsburgh charter school.

Maureen Anderson poses in Market Square of downtown Pittsburgh on a March evening. This was during the reveal of a new art piece displayed in the square that night and after the interview where she discussed Career Tech Charter. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

Having grown up in a blue-collar family, she understands the struggle some students face when attending a high school that nowadays the focus is on getting students into colleges rather than into career fields.

The goal of Career Tech is to help those students earn their high school degree and valuable career credentials in the technology, engineering, and trades areas while in high school so that they can enter the workforce prepared or continue their education.

Previous students of Anderson’s, like Bill Vogel, an application engineer, discussed the importance of Career Tech’s values in the engineering field, where many workers are not ready for the hands-on projects.

“Introducing this type of [tech and trade education is] only going to help and get people on the right track of where they are going,” Vogel said, emphasizing that a middle realm of students trained to work with their hands was missing, instead being replaced by workers who have the degree but hardly any hands-on experience.

As Anderson began to inform her network of colleagues and past students about her plans with Musto, most were supportive, and those who were not told her that she was not the person to take on this job.

However, while working as a career readiness teacher, Anderson encountered a variety of  students who struggled to identify and explore viable career options in the technology and trades field because they felt their only option was a four-year college degree.

Over the years of working with Carol Moye as teachers, Moye began to realize how passionate Anderson was about making sure those students got the support they needed.

Moye discussed one particularly difficult student that was constantly failing his classes and not putting forth effort.  “[Anderson] wouldn’t let him quit and you know, I remember a lot of her desire to start this school is based on this kid and other people like him,” said Moye.

In order to get this school started, Anderson decided, along with Musto, that they would take part in XQ: The Super School Project, a competition geared towards finding innovative high schools and funding five of the top teams with $10 Million each in order to create their school.

Currently, they are waiting for a response to see if they will continue onto phase three, although they have already begun the work on the phase in case they are chosen.

Anderson has always been prepared for the next few steps of this competition and has a plethora of connections with people who will be able to help Musto and herself achieve whatever component is needed.

“She is the people-person,” said Musto. “She has done an amazing job on building up a system of support and putting the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

This includes the creation of student surveys, as well as a video submission, for XQ in order to show the judges what students think about the foundation of their school and what youth are looking for in a high school experience.

Other plans for creating this school have been to pursue doctorates of education at PPU, as well as earning principal certifications within the next three years.

Vogel and Moye both agreed that one of the biggest barriers of this project will be obtaining a charter from the Pittsburgh Public School District or Pittsburgh Board of Education in order to create this school, although Vogel believes that it will be hard because they will have to convince everyone that Career Tech is not just another vocational school.

Anderson has been enjoying the feedback from students and professionals about the different parts of Career Tech and how they can work to improve the high school experience for students.

Originally Published on Her Campus – Point Park

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