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Stan Thompson: Helping Students Find Pathways that Amplify Their Skills and Identity

Stan Thompson: Helping Students Find Pathways that Amplify Their Skills and Identity

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hello, friends! Spiffy here with the scoop on the changemaking leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Stan Thompson, the former senior program director of education of The Heinz Endowments. Let’s learn what’s happening there and how Stan is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Stan! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through The Heinz Endowments?

Stan: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! The Heinz Endowments provides funding for The Readiness Institute at Penn State Pittsburgh Center, which endeavors to address the misalignment between the education, business, and community sectors to better position rising high school seniors to explore and embrace education and career pathways that are personalized and value each learner’s interests, skills, and dispositions. Through its programming and networks, the Readiness Institute enables education, industry, and community partners to coordinate, collaborate, and create experiences for learners to achieve community and future readiness—regardless of their zip code, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, and ability level.

Spiffy: That’s awesome! What motivates you to do it?

Stan: My motivation stems from my experience as a father and former high school principal. My son was fortunate enough to attend a high school which valued personalized learning through its internship opportunities in addition to classroom learning. The skills he developed and the relationships he cultivated have contributed to who he is today as a husband, father, and young professional. When I was a principal of a very large traditional comprehensive high school, I focused on trying to design experiences for teachers and students that would make learning engaging and iterative. The idea of the Readiness Institute came about because I believe everyone should be given the opportunity to find pathways that amplify their skills and identity.

Spiffy: How would you describe the impact of your work?

Stan: Since the summer of 2021, the Readiness Institute has made it possible for 135-140 rising seniors from the Pittsburgh region (36 districts) to participate in a six-week intensive program that has provided explorations in education, industry, and community venues where student teams develop essential skills and design solutions for legitimate community problems and industry challenges. Additionally, students make new friends and find mentors who continue to provide guidance and affirmation throughout the year. Follow-up workshops and events during the academic year continue to reinforce these skills and relationships. What is even more exciting is these alums are connected to us for life.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience or community?

Stan: The Readiness Institute recently hosted the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Industry 4.0 2023 STEM Summit, which gathered more that 300 students and educators from school districts across Southwestern Pennsylvania. The event provided a venue for students to learn from and about using new technologies like AI, augmented reality, robotics, self-driving  vehicles, drones, and more. The summit was really the first of its kind for grades 6-12 students in our region.

Spiffy: Wonderful! Thanks for speaking with me today, Stan—it’s been an honor!

Dr. Stan Thompson is the former senior program director of education at The Heinz Endowments. In addition to spending almost 15 years in philanthropy, he served as an English teacher, middle and high school principal, executive director of a charter school, and associate director for the New England Association for Schools and Colleges over the course of his extensive career. Stan is recently retired and living in Milton, Delaware, yet remains the executive adviser to the Readiness Institute, funded by The Heinz Endowments. (First published on the Ladderworks website on July 7, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.