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Pittsburgh high schoolers spend a summer engaged in STEM through this Pitt program

Two students pipette liquid into a vial

Oday Abushaban first heard about Pitt Bio Outreach when his older brother mentioned a summer program where students could learn about microbiology and participate in research labs. As a high schooler, Abushaban wasn’t sure what career he wanted to pursue, but knew working in a lab would be the best way for him to decide what areas of science interested him most.

So, he joined the Gene Team. Founded in 2006, the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biological Sciences program teaches high school students in the Pittsburgh area about biological sciences and provides college preparatory mentoring. It is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) INCLUDES Alliance and was one of six STEM PUSH Network precollege programs to earn a first-of-its-kind accreditation from Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools for broadening STEM opportunities for Black, Latino and Indigenous students.

Through the program, Abushaban taught people about what microbiologists do at festivals and events like STEM Day at the Carnegie Science Center, outreach he says is critical to engage students in science. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he served as a peer mentor and helped guide students through microbiology experiments while quarantining at home.

“It is awesome to see the faces of kids getting excited to engage in science, as those same kids will be the doctors, engineers and mathematicians of the future,” Abushaban said.

Now a junior in the Swanson School of Engineering, Abushaban says it was through Pitt Bio Outreach that he was able to connect with organizations like the Learning Disabilities Association of Pennsylvania, where he was hired to make lab procedural videos to help students follow along with the experiments, as reading instructions poses a barrier for some kids.

While microbiology is far from computer engineering, Abushaban says their shared scientific method aspects remain crucial to his writing and research. He credits Pitt Bio Outreach director Rebecca Gonda with bringing him to Pitt — and he wants to continue giving back.

“Pitt Bio Outreach has truly taught me a lot about microbiology, but more so about encouraging others out there to explore science and get involved.”


Angie Judson, photography by Rebecca Gonda

The STEM PUSH Network is operated by the Broadening Equity in STEM Center (BE STEM) at Pitt and was originally funded by the Eddie Bernice Johnson INCLUDES Alliance of The National Science Foundation. STEM PUSH is a partnership of researchers, educators and practitioners that leverages the deep expertise of faculty and staff from Pitt’s Dietrich School, School of Education, School of Computing and Information and School of Medicine, along with two academic centers: The Learning and Research Development Center and The Center for Urban Education.