PITTSBURGH — Ryan Brownfield grew up in a small town and elected to go to Waynesburg University in Greene County — just two blocks away from his family’s home. When he graduated in 2020 with a business degree, he was slightly apprehensive about traveling 50 miles north to work in the big city of Pittsburgh.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19 shutdowns, he landed a job in Allegheny County that came with a number of perks, including a lovely furnished apartment in Sewickley and a network of 14 roommates and neighbors who are also class of 2020 college graduates.
The 15 young men and women had been accepted into Pittsburgh Fellows — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit program where they “learn to seamlessly integrate faith and work,” according to the pittsburghfellows.com website.
Pittsburgh Fellows is a partner ministry of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. The program is a faith-based, Christian and nondenominational. Most Fellows are not Anglicans.
The program has corporate and business partners who interview and hire Pittsburgh Fellows, who then work from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Corporate partners pay the Fellows market-rate salaries for entry-level jobs. The program is geared toward business majors.
Partners range from corporate giants such as UPMC to small local companies with just five employees.
Fellows live in two houses owned by the nonprofit or two houses rented from St. Stephen’s.
“We give them nine months to get on their feet,” said Julie McCormick, the executive director, who runs Pittsburgh Fellows with two part-time employees.
“It’s a wonderful bridge between college and the working world,” said board chairman Ken Smith. A former corporate CEO who is now a full-time professor at Grove City College, he has volunteered with Pittsburgh Fellows since 2006, when the program started.
The yearly operating budget is about $300,000, he said, which comes from donations and fundraisers. St. Stephen’s members also contribute to the program.
Fellows work for their employers Monday through Thursday. On Fridays they attend classes at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge. They take two classes per semester and come out with a leadership/professional development certificate and 12 graduate school credits.
Fourteen of this year’s grads landed jobs — many with the companies that hired them as Fellows. The 15th was a bit of an outlier, choosing to move with his brother to Arizona to try something different.
Most Fellows stay in the Pittsburgh area, Smith noted. The board feels they have supplied the local market with dozens of hard-working, high-quality young people who will contribute to their community.
Brownfield worked nine months with Birgo Realty and has been hired by NVR, a division of Ryan Homes. The very active alumni association spreads the word about Pittsburgh Fellows.
Nella Matthews, 33, grew up in Maryland and learned about the program when she was a student at Geneva College in Beaver Falls. She was a Fellow in 2011.
“I had an unusual assignment. My parents are deaf, so I know American Sign Language. I got a job in the business office of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf,” which is not one of the regular partners with Pittsburgh Fellows.
Since then she has always had good business and marketing jobs, with steadily increasing responsibilities, advancements and pay. She lives in Avalon, a suburb north of Pittsburgh.
“It’s crazy how successful people can be with the right support,” Matthews said. The faith-based component is important to her because “religion is the lens through which I view the whole world.”
There are 30 Fellows programs across the country. The first one was in Falls Church, Va. The program was attended by the son of Becca and Geoff Chapman, who was then the pastor of St. Stephen’s. They loved the experience their son had, so St. Stephen’s started the country’s fourth Fellows Program in 2006, with Mrs. Chapman as executive director.
In the early days help came from many, including corporate heavy hitter C. Fred Federoff, president of Alcoa, Smith said.
Both Chapmans are now retired. McCormick took over as executive director five years ago.
“I love working with these young adults,” McCormick said, “and I love working with the employers.” One of the ways she shows her love is by hosting all of the Fellows for a home-cooked meal in her Sewickley home.
Colleges and universities named in this story are also faith-based. Waynesburg University is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Geneva College is governed by the Reformed Presbyterian Church North America. The Grove City College website says it is a “Christian liberal arts college” that is not affiliated with a church.