Building STEPS helping Baltimore students thrive


— Anthony Watters considers himself a revolutionary.

The Baltimore resident and Dunbar High School and Howard University graduate has started his own nonprofit, “It Takes Once, Inc., as he continues to pursue a master’s degree at McDaniel College in Westminster.

“It’s our responsibility, the responsibility the next generation to make a better future,” Watters said during a recent event held by Building STEPS, a local nonprofit launched 16 years ago and built on the principle that a college education changes an individual’s life.

The multi-year program supplements students’ classroom learning and exposes underserved high school students to science and technology-based careers while helping them excel in fields where minorities are overwhelmingly underrepresented.

Watters began participating in the Building STEPS program as “a shy 15-year-old student at Dunbar,” he said. “I was very ambitious. I knew I was smart and could achieve success but I was unaware of what success really meant,” Watters said.

Program officials work with students from seven Baltimore City public high schools.

Students are accepted through an application process and those with a minimum 3.0 GPA, strong attendance and interest in science and technology are encouraged to apply during the spring of their sophomore year, said Debra Hettleman, the program’s executive director.

Programming begins in August of the student’s junior year and, this year, Building STEPS anticipates serving 80 to 100 incoming juniors and 65 returning seniors in addition to more than 200 college students.

The program helps students apply for college and fill out financial aid forms. Advisors are employed to help students find jobs after graduation.

“More than 80 percent of Building STEPS program graduates earn a college degree compared to the 11 percent national average for low-income, first generation college students,” Hettleman said.

“Building STEPS students are bright, however they attend under resourced schools and lack the exposure and support critical to academic and career success. Through comprehensive and progressive programming, Building STEPS provides the exposure and tools critical to college access and completion and career success,” she said.

There’s no admission charges and the program relies entirely on philanthropic support, Hettleman said.

Annually, Building STEPS provide each student an education in workplace dynamics and counseling in college and career choices. Programming is regularly evaluated and modified to meet students’ growing needs.

A prep portion of the program engages sophomores in hands-on science oriented activities while a Junior Seminar Series exposes students to careers that rely on science and technology through interactive seminars hosted by local businesses and institutions.

A summer experience includes a paid internship and weekly professional and academic programming.

There are also college workshops, college connect, alumni services and other programs.

For Watters, Building STEPS has helped him to already reach some of his life’s goals and it has instilled in him the will to give back to his community.

His “It Takes One” company seeks to provide scholarships and educational resources to selected Baltimore City Public High School Seniors.

The nonprofit works daily to create a platform that allows the community to come together and create change, Watters said.

“Our inaugural effort was to give a $1,000 scholarship to selected Baltimore City Public High School seniors, for use toward tuition, books and/or educational supplies at the college of his or her choice,” he said.

“We were able to raise enough money to give away another scholarship of $500 to another student as well.”

There are over 620,000 people living in Baltimore City; If everyone just gave one dollar, 620 students could be sent to school with $1,000 scholarships, Watters noted, adding in his bio that it only takes one person to change the world, one person to spark the mind of another.

“When we come together as one, we are powerful beyond measure,” he said.

Watters credits Building STEPS with helping him to have the resolve to achieve. And, for students currently in the program or for those who might consider it, Hettleman said the organization is strengthening for the future.

“Building STEPS is positioned to grow, enabling more Baltimore City public high school students to achieve college and career success,” she said.

“We are always looking to expand partnerships and engage volunteers.”

For more information about Building STEPS, visit