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LAUNCH: Elevating the Next Generation of Young Women

LAUNCH is a program that focuses on helping the next generation of young women prepare for a brighter future. The nonprofit arm of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, Fortyx80, developed LAUNCH to target 10th & 11th grade girls and provide them with tools for success. North Hills Monthly recently spoke with Marie Pelloni, director of Talent, STEM and Workforce Initiatives Innovation, to learn more about this intriguing program.

North Hills Monthly:What is LAUNCH?

Marie Pelloni (Pelloni): LAUNCH itself is an acronym for Learn, Aspire, Understand, Navigate, Connect and Highlight. Through the program, 10th and 11th grade high school girls gain insight into their leadership styles. The program equips the girls with the confidence to pursue a successful career path in STEM.

NHM: How did the program begin?

Pelloni: Fortyx80 started five years ago to help entrepreneurs and start-up groups grow and succeed in the region. After we received some funding for STEM, we were able to grow to include students in our mission. We wanted to focus on ways to bridge the gap between students and professionals in STEM.

NHM: Why were high school girls chosen as the focus for LAUNCH?

Pelloni: High school girls have a natural curiosity. The program transforms that curiosity into a voice of leadership in the STEM industry.

NHM: How does the program work?

Pelloni: The program is based on four pillars. In the first pillar, the ladies of LAUNCH incorporate Martha Mertz’s Becoming Athena: Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership, to instill each girl with the confidence and skills she needs to succeed. Second, using the Birkman Method, each girl answers a 300-question assessment. Jason Vallozzi of Campus and Career Crossroads sets up appointments with the girls and their families to go over the reports generated to aid in identifying the girls’ strengths; what career families are best, and what jobs are within those families. He also discusses traditional and nontraditional ways to get there.

In the third pillar, the girls are paired with female mentors working in STEM—an essential component of the program that provides not only guidance but also potential connections to further boost success. This begins with a panel discussion with the girls to identify how they live authentically, what they advocate for and how they can exude the necessary confidence to succeed. The fourth pillar focuses on job shadowing in three different fields—sometimes related to what they want to do and sometimes not. This provides amazing insight into working in STEM. The girls then integrate that into a final project: a plan for advocacy that integrates tech.

NHM: Do you target a particular demographic for the LAUNCH program?

Pelloni: While we accept everyone to apply for the program, we try to reach girls who are underserved. Girls from a higher socioeconomic status may have more opportunities for making connections through networking on their own than girls from lower-income families. The perspective that all these young women gain through their connections outside of their networks in invaluable. What is truly beautiful are the connections made across socioeconomic lines.

NHM: We realize that there are countless success stories to share, but can you think of one that stands out?

Pelloni: Yes, there are so many! But one that comes to mind is a young woman who came to us from an underserved community in Pittsburgh, the Homewood neighborhood. Participation wasn’t easy for her. With her mom babysitting several children in their home, she often had to go to her car to use her phone to dial into the virtual calls during the program. Often, she was pulled away to do chores or run to get groceries. Despite her challenges, this young woman came the whole way through the program and participated in every single piece. She was paired with Ingrid Cook, the founder of SHzoom, a strong mentor and true advocate for LAUNCH. The encouragement from Ingrid along with the other girls in the program kept her from falling behind.

NHM: What was this young woman’s takeaway from LAUNCH?

Pelloni: She realized that she needed to be her authentic self, smile more and never be afraid to ask for help when needed. For her advocacy project, she developed a concept of anonymous support for teens from nearby baby boomers. Grandparents have an abundance of wisdom and experience to share that can benefit teens. And teens have a broader understanding of the tech world that can benefit baby boomers. She now is enrolled in a special elective course at her local high school to continue to work on this project and to make it a reality.

NHM: How can members of the community help?

Pelloni: Whether you are interested in becoming a mentor or know a girl who, through LAUNCH, could experience growth as a leader and exit the program prepared to create positive changes in their chosen career path, we want to hear from you.

The next LAUNCH program kicks off on Oct. 22, 23 and 24 at Duquesne University. For more information, contact Maria Pelloni at or 412-918-4292.

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