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By Yas Hatcher
Point Park News Service
Darryl Wiley never encountered a teacher who inspired him to achieve a positive outcome in his life during his upbringing in Newark.
His parents and relatives took that seriously and enabled him to use the drums to attend a high school that gave him a safe learning environment.
Today, his college degree has opened a door for him to create a program to help children with a lack of educational resources.
Wiley is the founder and director of the Legacy STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) Project that focuses on keeping young African American children off the streets and inside classrooms to increase learning in math, science and engineering to give them a chance in life.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a child develop and reach their capacity,” Wiley said.
Wiley is an only child whose parents divorced early in his life and both later went on to remarry, eventually giving Darryl a younger brother on his father’s side. He grew up living with his mother who was helped in raising him by her extended family of mostly women, even though he was highly influenced by his strong relationship with his father. Even though Wiley grew up viewing substance abuse and violent gang crimes from a distance, at the time he viewed his childhood to be completely normal and satisfying. In 1988, Wiley graduated from Arts High School, a performing arts school where he played the drums. Although his grades were average, Wiley got accepted into the University of Pittsburgh through a program called the University Challenge for Excellence Program (UCEP), which focused on allowing first generation college students into a secondary education program. “To be honest the only reason I applied to Pitt was because I grew up as a Steelers fan,” he said with a chuckle, rubbing salt and pepper colored goatee.
Academics took a backseat to the Black Action Society (BAS), as Wiley served as an active member. BAS fought to get an African culture center on campus and extra funding for resources. At the time, Wiley viewed the University of Pittsburgh’s public research, it showed that approximately 33 percent of African Americans that attended the school would actually graduate in four years from the university. It instilled a goal in him that would take years to reach.
“I knew I wanted to do something to help kids but I didn’t know how and I also wanted to make money,” Wiley said.
While studying as a black studies major, Wiley began to work as the coordinator of a youth program through the Boys and Girls Club called Athletes Supporting Kids (ASK), a program started by a few of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After the ASK program concluded, Wiley began to work for Family Foundations doing outreach services with families. Wiley would go into the homes to ensure their housing arrangements and resources. He found the biggest challenge to be working with the men and finding a balance to help the families.
“Here I am at the age of 21, without children, trying to teach these men how to be good fathers,” Wiley said explaining the description of his work with the organization. “I had to find a way to convince these guys that I do have good advice to offer even though I wasn’t in their shoes.”
After doing many jobs helping children and obtaining his degree, in 1994 Wiley went back to the University of Pittsburgh to obtain his masters degree in counseling. At this time he began to work for the University as the program coordinator of INVESTING NOW, a program targeting 3.0 and above African American high school students to help them succeed and prepare for college. The program provides tutoring, hands on learning programs, and math, science and engineering experiences. Today, the program no longer targets only African Americans, but all minority students.
Wiley left the program in 1996, after completing two years of his graduate education he became the program manager for the program NFTE (National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship) and later came back in 2010, where he now serves as the Assistant Director of INVESTING NOW, in the Swanson School of Engineering.
Wiley first got his idea for his Legacy STEM Project program when he invited six boys from his son’s fourth grade class to come to his office at the University of Pittsburgh to explore science through some hands on experiments.
“We made paper towers and then rockets that moved by blowing into a straw,” said Wiley also explaining that depending on how it was built, the rockets would fly in various ways.
After Wiley’s first session, more of his son’s peers became interested and begged for more sessions. Wiley decided to host a larger session for his son’s birthday. The party, called “The Legacy Birthday”, had the Pitt POMS (Premedical Organization for Minority Students) students come and perform a neurological activity as well as had the children learn about kinetic energy by creating roller coasting models and testing how they move.
“We want them to explore and see the fun side of math and science,” Wiley said.
His vision is to give children an “amazing” STEM experience by the third grade. This is when he came to really launch the science and engineering workshops to many local elementary and middle school students.
“If we can get them connected early and educate parents, we can change things significantly,” Wiley said.
The program is in the process of expanding to Pittsburgh Miller Pre K-5 students in addition to the original core group. It often has the University of Pittsburgh’s medical, science, engineering and math student organizations facilitate workshops and interact with Legacy students at the university. In addition to this, it is now a requirement for every Legacy chapter to start a NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) Junior chapter to give the students a connection to a larger organization with access to a larger network including college students, professionals, competitions and conferences.
Wiley often meets people who want to help kids, but do not know how to do it.
“Why should these people who want to give back and help children have to struggle to find a way to do so- and vice versa with the children?,” Wiley said.
Wiley’s goal is to get funding support to purchase experiment supplies, travel to the next NSBE conference in March 2013 and finally, to open a location called My Science Spot, where children can practice their math and science skills, get materials and perform supervised experiments. Ultimately, groups would be able to visit and intrigue students to learn more. Children would be expected to pay with grades as a currency to participate in activities.
“I think of children as the most valuable commodity there is,” Wiley said.
In the end, Wiley wants to give African American children an opportunity to do something positive and show interest in education.
“They can impact their family, literally to change the course of their family line, by changing the outcome of their education,” Wiley said. “You can grow up struggling, but if children can prepare early and eventually become a STEM professional, they can help their family and change their community.”