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Emerging Leaders Program (ELP)

Provides low-income high school seniors with a comprehensive college and workforce readiness experience

ELP is a workforce development and college readiness program for 155 low-income seniors in 5 high schools. During the school day ELP carries out weekly sessions, one on one meetings with the students daily, job shadows, mock interviews, college tours, resume building, college application and FAFSA assistance and much more!



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.






February 2019
As someone who is responsible for investing over $10M of public funds annually by seeking out scalable, high impact investments that truly make a difference for our children, HSCC's Emerging Leaders Program stands above the rest. My work has taken me across the country, where I have yet to see a program achieve as much for our children as HSCC’s ELP program. Their child-centered, smart approach to program development & scale, built on truly authentic partnerships with local schools remains unrivaled. Simply put, HSCC’s ELP is moving the needle for our children in ways no one else is.

About the innovation

Because of its unique position in the schools, every school year over 90% of ELP students move on to either post secondary education and/or a job after graduation.

The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) provides a comprehensive experience for seniors in high school. The curriculum is developed by the staff team to include many evidence based resources, and is constantly evolving based on the needs of the students each year. Specifically, each student can expect group sessions on relevant topics, consistent one-on-one meetings to address any student needs, career exploration guidance, assistance with FAFSA and college application completion, job shadows in their area of interest, instruction in building a resume, a mock job interview, help with senior projects, financial aid package review and advice, referrals to outside agencies and programs as necessary, and mentoring. 

ELP is offered in 5 school districts (East Allegheny, McKeesport Area, Penn Hills, West Mifflin Area, and Woodland Hills) that have a high population of low income families, minorities, and students that are statistically less likely to pursue higher education. Recent data from Allegheny County shows that students from these high poverty communities are far less likely to attend college than their wealthier counterparts. According to this data, only two of every five adults in these communities will attend college at all, a far cry from 91% of college attendees in higher income neighborhoods. Students from these low income communities do not have knowledge of the college application process, which industries are in high-demand, and what their options are after high school. ELP alleviates these barriers by providing students with the information and guidance they need in order to make informed decisions about their future. 

Emerging Leaders has productive partnerships, making our efforts much more cohesive in comparison to some of our peers in the field. All 5 schools allow our staff to carry out ELP daily in their buildings, provide space, computers, and staff interactions with students as much as needed which is another innovative aspect of our program collaboration with the schools. The ELP staff have a unique relationship with the students because they are allotted more time and personal interaction with each ELP student than the teachers and guidance counselors have daily. The staff develop excellent rapport with the participants and are able to give the student much more one on one attention than school personnel can throughout the week. This essentially helps alleviate the responsibilities the school counselors have for the ELP students and guidance can shift their focus to the 200+ students that are not receiving ELP services.

An extensive amount of time and energy is put towards offering all 155 high school seniors at least one informational interview and/or job shadow with a professional in the field of their interests. Staff spend a significant amount of time researching and networking with companies and professionals from all industry sectors to continually add and improve our contacts. Students are taken on college visits and job tours to places such as UPMC McKeesport Hospital, the Medical Examiner's Office, Duquesne Light, Tucker Law, and Deloitte among so many others throughout the year.  


Fills a Gap In Education
The Emerging Leaders Program creates lifelong impacts for its participants, their families and the broader community. As a first-generation college student myself, I appreciate that the intensive hands-on assistance high school seniors receive onsite in defining their goals, selecting training or education to match and addressing financial and other barriers can change the trajectory of their future financial status and career opportunities. The Emerging Leaders Program fills a missing gap in our education to workforce pathways for many communities —it is simple and yet very effective. -Mary Phan-Gruber, Executive Director of the Jefferson Regional Foundation 
Emerging Leaders Podcast 2019
Job Shadows Expose Youth to Opportunities
I found the job tour that I hosted as part of the Emerging Leaders Program to be not only beneficial to local industry and the students, but personally rewarding to me as a mentor to youth. It was clear to me that most, if not all, of the students had very limited knowledge of our particular business or the metals industry as a whole. The event provided them not only a greater understanding of the industry but a discovery of the varied career paths available within it. We spoke quite a bit about things like work readiness skills, aptitude, education, work-life balance, cultural norms and how to be an effective contributor to an organization. Being able to share my thoughts with the group and perhaps influence their personal development was a rewarding experience for me. I’m hopeful that the exposure to me and our business was impactful to the leaders. James S. Anderson, President of New Millennium Building Systems, Steel Dynamics, Inc.
Professionals See Benefit in Sharing Their Passion
Alexis, an ELP high school senior, joined me for an afternoon in my pediatrics clinic. She expressed an interest in going to medical school but had never seen the inside of a working practice. As the morning progressed, she became more and more engaged in the process of building rapport, diagnosing, and treating patients. I'm thrilled to be able to share my love of medicine with an eager young person who would otherwise be unable to experience it.Dr. Michael Freedman, MD , Pediatrician, Turtle Creek, PA 
Job Shadows are Exceptional Opportunities to Learn Directly
I have hosted several ELP students that were interested in the nursing field. It is a huge benefit for the students to have the unique opportunity to talk directly with professionals to gain the necessary knowledge about what pursuing the career really means and what that will look like. The ELP staff prepared the students well to receive the most out of the opportunity and encouraged them to fully participate and ask as many questions as they could. All students should receive this type of experience before deciding on their future paths. 
True Partnership Between School and Program
Woodland Hills High School has been very fortunate to host and offer the Emerging Leaders Program to some of our brightest first-generation college bound seniors. Many of our students come from low-income families whose parents have not had the opportunity to attend college and do not realize that this can be an option for them following high school graduation. ELP specifically seeks out these students and provides them with one-on-one assistance as they navigate SAT and ACT registration, college and scholarship applications, and the ambiguous process of securing financial aid. Beyond these specific tasks however, Mr. Luke provides our kids with a sounding board, confidant, mentor, and adviser, as they talk through their career and college interests and the barriers they may face achieving their dreams. Mr. Luke has gained the trust and respect of the kids which, at our school, is not an easy endeavor. Beyond the strength of his character is the fact that he is present at our school every day. I believe that having an ELP staff member assigned to a specific school who can be there consistently for the students is not only a unique attribute of an outside program but also one of the reasons the program has been so successful. Furthermore, Woodland Hills would simply not be able to provide all of the services and opportunities it offers without the presence of Mr. Luke in our College & Career Center. Although there are 30 specific students enrolled in his program, he is constantly working with any student who comes through our door. He is always willing to facilitate when college and career speakers visit while also willing to chaperone all of our campus visits. I consider the College & Career Center “our Center” and we make decisions and discuss ideas together. I could not ask for a better or more supportive colleague. " Dr. Jennifer J Damico, Dr. Jennifer J. Damico, Director of College & Career Services for Woodland Hills High School
ELP Graduate
When in high school, the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) was a very impactful program to be a part of. Neither of my parents attended college, and I remember the college process being extremely stressful for me because I had no one to turn to until I joined ELP. Having someone to help with college applications, review application essays, and prepare you for life after high school relieves a lot of that stress. Mr. Luke, who was the YDA at my school, was one of the most influential people I have met and he was always there to lend a helping hand. I strongly believe that this program should be available in all schools because it would be very beneficial to students like myself who may need additional assistance with preparing for college. In addition, the connections you make while in ELP will last a lifetime and you will always have someone to lean on when you may need help. Madison Szuminsky, Graduate of ELP Woodland Hills High School now attending Chatham University
ELP Outcomes 2017-2018
• 100% (155/155) of participants earned a high school diploma. • 96% (149/155) of ELPers entered post-secondary training/education, entered the military, and/or entered the workforce. • 94% (146/155) of participants entered post secondary education/training. • 83% (129/155) of ELPers participated in a mock interview. • 98% (152/155) of Emerging Leaders developed a resume.
One-On-One Attention is Key
ELP is a program that any high school student can benefit from. Whether it is help on college applications or unsure where to look for a job, students need somewhere they can go to for extra help and support. The one-on-one attention is what makes this program unique and allows our students to be as successful as they are. Vanessa Dunn, ELP Youth Development Associate 
Impressive Job Shadows and Success Rates
The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) is a unique and extremely successful partnership program. It provides in-school and out of school opportunities for students in five high schools, including informational interviews, job shadowing, college tours, and worksite tours at key regional employers, such as UPMC McKeesport Hospital, the Medical Examiner's Office, Duquesne Light, Tucker Law, and Deloitte. Most impressive are the success rates of the students – all 155 ELP participants graduated last school year and 94% entered post-secondary education.Julie DeSeyn, Vice President, Community Impact United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania
Changes Student's Trajectory
The Human Services Center Emerging Leaders Program is a valued asset for the Pittsburgh region. ELP staff deliver a youth-centered program in partnership with local businesses and school districts to augment the traditional educational system, creating contextualized workforce education opportunities for youth in need. ELP changes a student’s trajectory in life, opening new opportunities, developing critical baseline skills, and ensuring that more than 95% of students enrolled in the program graduate from high school on time and matriculate to post-secondary education, the military, or employment. ELP is making a difference in the lives of youth and in our region, and helping drive innovative educational practices in workforce development.Susie Puskar, Director of Youth Innovation at Partner4Work 
Continue to Help Students After High School
ELP provides the necessary bridge between high school and post secondary plans for our students. While they are always welcomed to come back for advice or guidance, once they graduate it’s all too easy to lose contact with them. ELP is able to provide the support in the most crucial year after graduation and ultimately help to guarantee our students a successful future as adults.Molly Harbst, West Mifflin Area High School Guidance Counselor
Parents Find ELP Helpful
My daughter came home one day in her junior year to tell me she wanted to be a part of ELP. She said if we qualify, I can receive at-school assistance on colleges and financial aid. When we found out she qualified, we were both thrilled. It has been such a valuable student and parent tool. My daughter is more aware and has actively participated in understanding the means to her own future. And, I, as a single parent have valued the FASFA directions/deadlines, etc. This can only come from a program that is accessible to both my child and me in the school environment. Not only is Vanessa Dunn an experienced professional and well-qualified for this program, she truly cares about facilitating the students on their journeys to their future career tracks.Lori Ballog, Parent of an ELP graduate that attended West Mifflin Area High School
ELP Participant Interview
Student Interview
Broadcasting Job Shadow
ELP Helps Ease the Load for Guidance Counselors
As the only school counselor responsible for close to 500 students in grades 9-12, it is difficult to meet the college and career readiness needs of all of my students. The Emerging Leaders Program has helped to provide the attention that my seniors need. Not only does ELP help them with completing college applications and the FAFSA, it also teaches them the soft skills they will be need to be successful in their postsecondary plans. My students have been able to attend job shadows, learn interviewing skills, and develop resumes, all through ELP. This program has been a tremendous asset to our students and to me personally. It allows me to maximize my time with my students while ensuring they receive the individualized attention they need. I look forward to collaborating with them for many more years to come!Emilia Peiffer, East Allegheny High School Counselor and Board Member of the American School Counselors AssociationThe Emerging Leaders Program has been a powerful resource for our students. They have transcended any expectations that I had going in. The program has a way of seamlessly assisting students from high school seniors to future college students or professional. Each and every student that passes through ELP is better equipped for whatever the future holds.Chris Darsie, Penn Hills High School Guidance Counselor
School Partners See Value!
I would say the Emerging Leaders Program has been an amazing asset to our students. The program meets a number of needs of our students they would not necessarily have available to them. Through job shadowing, understanding the FASFA, the college application process, just to mention a few, Kaelynn has given our students opportunities to move forward in post secondary education and the work force. Kaelynn and ELP are a great addition to our school and our staff. We are lucky to have this available to us and our students.Marcie Barry, McKeesport Area High School Associate Principal
Current ELPer is Ahead of Peers
When I joined ELP I wanted to go to college but didn't know what I had to do to go. ELP taught me about careers, showed me how to do the FAFSA and financial aid, and helped me get accepted to college. When I talk to my friends who aren't in ELP, they're stressed over parts of applying to college that I got done months ago, and that would definitely be me if it weren't for ELP. Dan Kasmier, ELP participant and Senior at East Allegheny High School 
Kidsburgh: Emerging Leaders Program In Mon Valley
Check out this amazing news story on the Emerging Leaders Program!https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2018/03/28/kidsburgh-emerging-leaders-program/

Implementation steps

Find a committed school

Find a school that has a significant amount of students in need of college and workforce readiness. Make sure the school will be committed to helping you identify students that will need the assistance and will also provide a space and computers for your program to be implemented during the school day. It may be useful to have a signed Memorandum of Understanding with your program and the school so both partners know exactly what is needed. 

Tip: Make sure the school partner can provide all of the necessary components that you need, such as space and access to their staff and students as needed both during recruitment of students as well as during the program. 

Hire staff member(s)

Hire one full-time staff member to work directly with the participants at the school and off site. Make sure the potential staff person has passion and experience working with teenagers and has some knowledge of workforce and college readiness topics and experiences. You will also need a staff member to oversee the operations and staff supervision of the program.

Tip: In our experience, to provide quality services to each ELP participant, you should have a staff person oversee 30-35 students at a maximum. 


If serving seniors in high school, you will need to start recruiting students in their junior year so they can be ready to start in the summer months going into their senior year. The school should be willing to help you identify numerous students that would be a fit for the program as well. 

Tip: It is recommended that a staff person present the program to all students in a general junior class such as English as well as make phone calls to all potential applicant's parents to educate them about the program. For ELP the ideal number of students needed to have a productive program with one full time staff member is 30-35. 


Several months before the program begins identify or develop a curriculum that will be implemented during the program sessions that are held at least once a week as well as for one on one sessions with students as needed. 

Tip: An effective curriculum should include topics and activities including but not limited to personality and/or skills assessment testing, career and post secondary research, financial literacy, post secondary options for all, resume writing, mock interviews, communication skill building, and so much more.

Student goal planning

Before the start of the school year, staff should meet individually with all participants a few times to create concrete goal plans and steps, help them determine their career interests and abilities, and identify any special needs they may have that ELP can assist with to help them succeed along the way. 

Tip: Make sure the goal plans include very detailed steps that need to be taken and when to accomplish the student's goals. Meet with students often throughout the program year to go over the plans and ensure the steps are being completed in a timely manner.

Program sessions and meetings

Plan to start weekly program sessions and daily one on one meetings when school begins and then continue that schedule for the entire school year. It will be crucial to keep open communication with the school partner and ensure all appropriate members are informed of program participant progress and needs.  

Tip: It is imperative to work closely with the school partner to decide on the appropriate weekly session schedule for students. Utilizing your currriculum, plan the topics and activities well before school starts and make sure your school partner has the syllabus/time line of events and activities for each week.

Job shadows and/or informational interviews

Develop a comprehensive list of professionals in all industries clusters that would be willing to meet with your participants to give them a well rounded idea of what the career entails and how to get there. Also identify what each student's preferred job shadow interest would be and schedule those as much as you can in the fall and winter months. 

Tip: An extensive amount of time and energy is put towards offering all participants at least one informational interview and/or job shadow with a professional in the field of their interests. Staff spend a significant amount of time researching and networking with companies and professionals from all industry sectors to continually add and improve our contacts. It is crucial you ensure that the professionals you identify are engaging and understand how to relate to the students at their level of understanding. 

Job and college applications

Throughout the program assist each student with the job and/or college application processes. If attending post secondary education after high school, help with the financial aid process and discuss options.

Tip: Make sure all staff working with the students are properly trained in completing the government financial aid processes and understand best practices in completing college applications and essays. 

Update goal plans

Continually meet with students and make sure progress is being made towards their goals for both high school and after high school success. 

Tip: It is best to meet at minimum twice a month individually with students. Review their goal plans and ensure that the proper steps are being taken and in a timely manner. 


Before, throughout, and after programming make sure you are collecting and tracking data to show student and program success.

Tip: It is crucial to have a data system in place to track the data and have the ability to analyze and track results throughout the program and after completion.


Provide services to youth for 12 months in follow-up to the completion of the program. 

Tip: To maintain contact with all youth, an intern or paid staff can be the point person in contacting the youth at assigned intervals throughout the 12 month period to check-in to see what services may be needed, how the youth are doing, and for those in college, what forms they may need assistance completing to ensure their continued success. Communication mechanisms can include in person, phone, email, Face Time/Skype, social media, and snail mail.

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