Building STEPS Helps STEM Students Go to College

The initiative gives inner-city kids resources to apply to college and enter the workforce.

Justin Klugh - Baltimore GameChangers

Building STEPS Helps STEM Students Go to College

The initiative gives inner-city kids resources to apply to college and enter the workforce.

Justin Klugh - Baltimore GameChangers

-Photography by Sean Scheidt

Debra E. Hettleman's goal is to be so successful that she’ll work herself out of a job.

She’s CEO of Building STEPS, a program that’s been in Baltimore for 20 years and identifies about 100 high school juniors annually from 15 Baltimore City public schools who have an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It provides field trips, workshops, seminars, summer programs, in-person visits, and other resources as students apply to and attend college, then enter the workforce.

“I’d like Building STEPS to not be necessary,” Hettleman says. “I would like our education system to be so strong that the kids would get all the exposure and support they need through school.” But until we live in that world, she sees the program as “a replicable model propelling students across the country to college and career success.”

“For many reasons, our students may have barriers to doing this,” Hettleman says. “We have a case where a student lives in foster care, and between applying to college and August registration, they moved. They left their paperwork at the original foster house. So, they’re thinking, ‘Now what do I do? I guess I’m not going to go because I don’t have the paperwork.’ But we’re constantly following up. We know when a problem comes up, and we can help the student navigate it.”

Building STEPS students stay in Maryland, allowing team representatives to visit, forward them care packages, and send them a weekly video of college or professional development tips. As students progress, they receive advice on workplace dynamics, timeliness, workplace body language, how to make small talk, and other soft skills that might not have been available to them in high school.

Eighteen years of Building STEPS alumni, the first of whom are now in their mid-thirties and many of whom have gone on to find STEM careers in Maryland, now offer internships and other opportunities to current Building STEPS students, creating something of a self-sustaining support system.

The program’s 20th anniversary last year gave graduates the chance to reflect, with one writing to Hettleman, “Building STEPS helped me see outside the four walls of high schools and set me up with tools for college.”

Another wrote, “Having exposure to different aspects of the sciences was awesome and made me want to pursue a PhD.”

“I couldn’t write that,” Hettleman says. “That’s the whole purpose, right there. They stick with us, and we stick with them.”





You May Also Like

GameChangers

Q&A with Del. Robbyn Lewis

We sit down with the delegate from Baltimore's 46th legislative district.

GameChangers

More Than A Coach

Garrick Williams, the “Mayor of Park Heights,” teaches life lessons through football

GameChangers

Moves That Motivate

With an emphasis on youth, Bmore Than Dance keeps the steps alive and kicking.

GameChangers

Diets of Debris

Thanks to its steady refuse-noshing, Mr. Trash Wheel makes the harbor cleaner.

GameChangers

A Primer for Getting Involved in Charitable Causes

We offer tips on what to look for in a charity—and even how to start your own.

GameChangers

Reaching Back

Three local luminaries weigh in on the city, on their calling, and on Baltimore’s kids.

-Photography by Sean Scheidt

Connect With Us

Most Read


What Will Druid Hill Park Look Like in Two Years?: As Druid Lake Reservoir overhaul continues, city leaders consider activation options.

How to Support Small Businesses Amid Pandemic Panic: As foot traffic slows due to coronavirus, owners worry about lasting impacts.

Local Boutiques Offer Deals and Online Shopping Amid Coronavirus Outbreak: Opening and closing updates from the retail scene.

Baltimore Restaurants Cope With Indefinite Closures: Chefs introduce curbside takeout and delivery while weighing options for staff.

John Waters Flexes Acting Muscles on 'Law & Order: SVU': The Baltimore icon will guest star on an episode of the NBC show later this month.