Bridge Connects Pitt to Area High Schools

Issue Date: 
April 7, 2014

ForHigh School nearly 35 years, Pitt’s College in High School program has given qualified high school students the opportunity to earn Pitt college credits during the regular school day—without traveling to the University.

In addition, the 15 Pitt faculty members involved with the College in High School program provide collegiate professional development to high school teachers from across Pennsylvania. These high school educators—who teach courses ranging from calculus to communications to statistics—are trained and certified by some of Pitt’s most distinguished faculty.

“This program really provides a bridge that connects Pitt to high school teachers and students. It’s especially exciting to see the yearly meetings between Pitt faculty and the teachers they oversee,” said Mike Giazzoni, director of the program. “Both groups of teachers—in the high schools and at Pitt—are some of the best I’ve known in both fields.”

John Ramirez, who teaches in Pitt’s Department of Computer Science, has served as one of the program’s computer science liaisons for 15 years. Winner of the Tina & David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award in 2001 and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2012, Ramirez said the program has changed the way he views teaching.

“Preparing materials for the high-school teachers forces me to closely examine course content, assignments, and exams. As a result, I am often able to improve these materials for my own offerings of the courses,” said Ramirez. “The feedback these teachers provide has also helped me to refine and improve my courses.”

Similarly, the program has also influenced Nancy Pfenning, a senior lecturer in Pitt’s Department of Statistics in the Dietrich School and winner of the 2011 Tina & David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award. Pfenning, who teaches basic statistical analysis, said the program has given her an arena to practice new teaching techniques, which, in turn, have strengthened her teaching skills.

“Training the teachers has definitely made me a stronger educator,” she said. “It forces me to consider carefully, year after year, what we can do to make our statistics courses more effective and stimulating, whether they are being taught to high school students or at the University.”

Each year about 3,100 students across Pennsylvania (and from one school in Ohio) are instructed by high-school teachers certified through Pitt’s College in High School Program. Unlike Advanced Placement, where students are evaluated on the basis of one final examination, in the College in High School program students are evaluated on their performance on several examinations and assignments throughout the year. The program’s course offerings include advanced classes often offered in high school, and the student’s cost for most courses is just $225. Financial assistance, provided by Pitt and generous individual donors, is often available for students in need.

For students who eventually attend Pitt, College in High School allows students to transfer both credits and grades to their undergraduate transcripts. “This is a fantastic opportunity at a low price and, according to data we’ve analyzed, it is 50% more likely to result in a credit transfer than Advanced Placement courses,” Giazzoni said. “Plus, Pitt credits are highly transferrable, so even if the students don’t enroll at Pitt, their credits will still count at other institutions.”

Simon Brown, a Pitt junior majoring in history, philosophy, and the history and philosophy of science, earned his first college credits through the program. When he was a senior at Seneca Valley High School in Harmony, Pa., Brown enrolled in the Department of Communication course, “Argument.” The course was taught by a high-school teacher—trained by a Pitt faculty member—who engaged students in rhetorical techniques, theories, and class-wide debates.

“It’s not often you get to read and study Aristotle in high school or practice debating styles,” Brown said. “The class really prepared me for college as I now think critically about both sides of any debate.”

And stories like this—involving top-notch high school educators—have become more common thanks to Pitt’s College in High School program. Of the high school teachers who’ve been trained through the program, Pfenning said they all share one common trait: dedication.

“The level of excitement and engagement these teachers have is phenomenal,” she said. “And their dedication is commendable. We have all become stronger teachers, educators and peers through this invaluable program.”

For more information on Pitt’s College in High School program, visit