As the bell rang and thousands of Syracuse City School District (SCSD) students packed their bookbags, gave their lockers a final check and raced toward busses to head home, a few set their sights on the heights. The Le Moyne Heights. Their school day extended into a collegiate setting, empowering them to plant roots for their future growth in higher education and beyond.
This small snapshot of the end of a Central New York school day is part of a much bigger picture for some members of Le Moyne College’s ERIE21 program. Founded in the summer of 2018, ERIE21 aims to address our region’s twin challenges of concentrated urban poverty and the inability of employers to attract and retain the skilled workers needed to fill current job openings.
Serving as both a comprehensive and long-term strategy, ERIE21 delivers early scholastic intervention in middle school and provides ongoing support to students in high school and college, as well as to adults, to strengthen the region’s capacity to generate homegrown talent to feed the growing demand for computational, software and engineering expertise.
President Linda LeMura displays the model plane given to her by a group of ERIE21 students.
The program’s namesake, the Erie Canal, catapulted Syracuse into an era of unparalleled economic growth in the 19th century by unleashing an unprecedented expansion of commerce. ERIE21 holds great potential for sustainable positive impact, through education programs designed to prepare residents for jobs in the innovation economy. It was only fitting to segment the ERIE21 program into “locks” just like the canal and provide certain levels of care to specific sectors of career-bound individuals.
The first phase of the program – Lock 1 – begins with an on-campus Quantitative Thinking Village for the youngest members of ERIE21, rising SCSD sixth through eighth graders. These math- and science-driven middle schoolers are introduced to the field of coding. They participate in hands-on engineering activities, are exposed to the basics of web design and learn the foundations of the block program Scratch. They hone these skills throughout the academic year on campus, enabling them consistent skill reinforcement.
Lock 2 offers tech-based experiences and programming for high school students in an effort to equip and empower them with the tools they need to graduate and thrive in college and careers. They’re offered academic support, tutoring, customized personal learning plans, a college advising system centered on placing students into New York State Collegiate Opportunity Programs, networking leads with industry experts, career advising, community service activities, family engagement and more.
Recruitment for Lock 3 begins before Dolphins set foot on campus. The ERIE21 team works with the Enrollment and Financial Aid offices to recruit a diverse group of students who need significant financial aid. The current cohort consists of 100-plus students of different majors who are defining their own paths in tech-related fields. While students can also enter Lock 3 at various points throughout their Le Moyne journey, a Learning Community is exclusively offered to a select number of first-year students, providing them the opportunity to reside near one another in a residence hall and share key coursework.
Lock 4 caps off the program by delivering services, including custom-tailored clinics, Le Moyne certificate programs and career training. Utilizing community-based settings such as libraries, community centers and the Le Moyne campus, Lock 4 creates space to strengthen the computational foundations needed to compete for technology-based jobs in the region.
A student from Lock1 works on a computer graphic, a student recieves instruction, two students show off
their projects, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh talks with students about their ERIE21 project.
“ERIE21 embodies what it means to be people for and with others, which is a key principle of a Jesuit education,” says Amanda Miles ’10, ERIE21 director. “We are opening up doors and pathways to careers that many participants wouldn’t otherwise have been able to access, or even consider, and we are walking right alongside them as they do it.”
Miles and her colleagues are aligned with the Jesuits’ teachings to be Contemplatives in Action – to not only identify and reflect on social problems, but to act on them. Miles says, “The program is rising quickly and we want to prove that our work matters, and that what we do is indispensable. Once we do that here in our own community, we are looking to expand beyond upstate New York.”
With a strong mission to mitigate concentrated urban poverty and nourish the Syracuse technology job market, ERIE21 is poised to unlock the future!
By Danielle Murray