Community Service is my favorite TCP category. I may be biased because I work in…
Craig Staresinich is a Pittsburgh University alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Before retiring and becoming involved with The Challenge Program, Inc. (TCP) in 2013, he had a long and successful career as an aeronautical engineer. When asked about his first position after graduation, he can hardly contain his response. “I graduated and got my first job with NASA!” His face and voice still project what I imagine was the same sense of stunned excitement he must have had more than 40 years ago when he landed the job. He was assigned to mission control right after Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Craig spent 14 years with NASA and worked on Apollo missions, Skylab and the early phase of the Space Shuttle program. When Craig mentions his work with NASA, it never fails to grab the attention of students quickly. In 1983, Craig was hired by TRW (later acquired by Northrop Grumman) to build satellites, some launched aboard the Space Shuttle. Craig eventually became a Vice President and Program Manager at Northrop Grumman. He readily uses his NASA and Northrop experience in the aerospace industry in his message to students regarding employee evaluations and how the TCP award categories relate to career success.
“During the annual employee review process, all the managers would get together in a conference room and discuss each employee’s performance during the year. Our whole discussion revolved around these 5 TCP categories. Did they come to work every day? When they came did they really apply themselves? Did they volunteer to spend extra time there? How technologically advanced are they? Did they step out of their comfort zone? How well rounded were they? When it came time for promotions and raises, the employees that met these criteria best, received the best raises and promotions. Conversely, if it ever came time for lay-offs, the employees that didn’t meet these criteria were vulnerable. Those evaluation categories are not just important for The Challenge Program, they’re important for your future, and I’m here to help cheer you on so you do well in those categories and in life.”
Q: How did you become involved with The Challenge Program, Inc.(TCP)?
A: It all got started when I met a former program manager at TCP and he told me how the program works, but I really got interested when I heard Dan Perkin’s story [founder of TCP]. The story really interested me because he’s a guy who started an organization to challenge high school kids to do better. I really believe that students at that age are the most able to be influenced to do well. Any program that is set up to influence students is worth it. The more I learned about it, the more impressed I was. I get to work with students and hopefully create a spark to help them do well in their career.
Q: What do you like best about the Program?
A: It gives me a chance to interact with the students. My favorite part is getting to drive up here to schools like [Turkeyfoot Valley High School] and getting to see the kids. Sending a check is one thing but meeting them and getting to talk to them about things that will help them in their careers is another.
Q: What would you tell other businesses not involved with TCP?
A: It doesn’t cost that much to support a school. If an individual can do it a business can too. Businesses should all get involved. It goes a long way to get those kids thinking about the Challenge Award categories. You are helping kids gain good workplace qualities which will make great students want to come and work for you. It is a win-win.
Q: What would you say to other individuals about TCP?
A: Especially to individuals like me who have retired and have the funds to support a school, what better way to use that money. What a rewarding thing for an individual like myself. You get to meet the kids and hand them an award. I love it.
Q: What is your advice to students entering the workforce?
A: I often talk about how we used the criteria reflected by the TCP awards when I was Vice President and Program Manager for Northrop Grumman. It’s the same criteria we used to determine who gets the biggest raises or promotions. The next thing I am going to speak about at assemblies is to trust your gut. In my life, if I was ever headed down the wrong road something in my gut made me go the other way. That was a good thing. Look for those signs along the way.
Q: What is your favorite Award Category?
A: STEM and Academic Improvement. STEM is a word that hits home the most. My career has been all about technology. I was Vice President of a company that spent an enormous amount of money going out and introducing students to the STEM field. I am passionate about it.
Another [favorite award category] is Academic Improvement. In the workforce, it is not always about doing a better job [than everyone else] but is all about looking for ways to go outside of your comfort zone. You may get asked to do something that seems really hard but don’t say ‘no’. Do it, take the job, and you will be surprised at what you can do.
Q: What is your favorite TCP moment?
A: I learned one of the students from Greater Johnstown High School (one of Craig’s supported schools in 2016) won [TCP] Student of the Year and I went to the Crystal Owl Gala to meet her and her family. When I listened to her story in her speech it was really wonderful and showed me how a program like TCP can influence young women like her. An amazing young lady despite all of the challenges she went through in high school. There is no doubt that she will be successful.