To help illustrate the role that critical programs and initiatives play in making Steel Valley a special place, please take the time to read some of the individual stories below. These stories showcase why people choose Steel Valley. From cases of parents deciding to give their home district an opportunity to alumni finding ways to give back, each person recognized the benefits that Steel Valley offered and made a conscious choice to be part of our community.

Passion for learning laid foundation for Dr. Jean M. Vettel's journey into neuroscience

As Dr. Jean M. Vettel drove from her father’s house to Steel Valley High School in late May, a wave of memories came flooding back.

She had been back to visit the area countless times following her graduation from Carnegie Mellon University in 2001, but now she was back specifically for a Steel Valley event. As the guest speaker for Steel Valley’s Class of 2023 commencement ceremony, Dr. Vettel had her alma mater on her mind as she drove by the familiar houses in Munhall.

“It’s the memories of different places that I used to go to, or people I used to hang out with that I haven’t thought about, that were triggered by those places,” she said. “That’s the biggest emotion.”

To learn more about Dr. Vettel's journey from Steel Valley to the forefront of neuroscience, read her story.

Dr. Jean Vettel speaks at 2023 commencement ceremony

Dontez Williams returns to Steel Valley to jumpstart middle school football program

There are moments when Dontez Williams wishes he could strap on the pads one more time.

Football runs in his blood. His older brother, Delrece, once held the WPIAL record for rushing yards in a regular season. Dontez had his own moment in the spotlight for Steel Valley in the fall of 2011, when he unexpectedly emerged as one of the top running backs in the WPIAL and ran for 1,573 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior.

Family required the bulk of his attention after he graduated from Steel Valley in 2012, but the itch to be around the game wouldn’t go away. Now, he's returned to his alma mater as the middle school football coach, jumpstarting a program that will fill a gap between local youth leagues and the school's storied varsity program.

“One day, if I become rich or whatever, I’m going to give back to the community,” Williams said. “Even though I’m doing it now and volunteering down at the little league, it means a lot to be able to come back to my alma mater and be able to give back to these kids.”

To read more about the program and Williams' return, check out his story.

Dontez Williams poses for a photo

Ben Bobick's return to alma mater a humbling opportunity

The sound of a ringing phone brought Ben Bobick out of his slumber. On the other end was Mr. John Strom, Steel Valley High School principal, with a simple question: Was Bobick ready to come home and give the commencement address at his alma mater?

“I was woken up from a nap, so I thought I was still dreaming,” Bobick said in an interview. “I always thought in my line of work and where I was going, I was hopefully looking forward to that day that they would honor me and be able to do it. It was almost a surprise that it happened so quickly. I was just so overcome, and I took a few minutes to realize that this is actually happening.”

A 2012 graduate of Steel Valley, Bobick is a sports anchor and reporter for WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While at Steel Valley, Bobick graduated with a 4.04 GPA and was a four-year letterman in golf, soccer and baseball, served as the senior class president, was the 2012 National Honor Society Student of the Year, and received the William V. Campbell Scholar Athlete Award.

To read more about Bobick's dream of returning to his alma mater, check out his alumni profile following his speech at the Class of 2022 commencement ceremony.

Class of 2022 valedictorian Ben Novotony with Class of 2012 Ben Bobick

How a transfer brought a smile back to Keita Hemphill's face

The first day of kindergarten couldn’t come soon enough for Keita Hemphill.

“From Day One, she was like, “I want to go to school!” her mother, Charlestina Hemphill, recalled. “Even from 2-years-old, she was like, ‘I want to go to school.”

A Class of 2023 graduate from Steel Valley High School, Keita’s precocious nature placed her in pre-kindergarten and the Head Start program earlier than most children. When it came time for kindergarten, the Hemphills decided on Propel Homestead, even though it required a wait list. 

“When they finally got her in there, it was easy because it was right up the street. I was able to take her to school,” Charlestina said. “The school was basically a convenience. I thought it was a good school at the time, but over the years, it was hard because the school wasn’t what it was supposed to be.”

As Keita wound her way through elementary school, Charlestina was disappointed by what she considered a lack of attention from certain teachers. If Keita was stuck on an assignment or struggled with a particular concept, the Hemphills felt she wasn’t getting enough assistance. Still, they stuck with it as Keita began to prepare to make the transition from eighth grade at Propel Homestead to ninth grade at Propel Andrew Street High School

Before her freshman year, however, Keita and her mother discussed the possibility of transferring to Steel Valley. To learn more about Keita's decision to transfer to Steel Valley, read more of her story here.

Steel Valley transfer Keita Hemphill poses in the hallway at Steel Valley High School

Austin Riley fulfills promise by returning to Steel Valley as a teacher

As he sat through his first business classes as a freshman at California University of Pennsylvania, Austin Riley had a realization.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is boring. I can't do this,” Riley recalled. “I have to put my passions to the forefront.”

Riley wanted to teach. The 2016 Steel Valley graduate heard all of the concerns: The jobs weren’t there, the market was ultracompetitive, it was too difficult of a challenge. He took that advice seriously, which was how he found himself in business classes that threatened to lull him to sleep. Riley changed his major. He had to give education a shot.

Five years later, Riley has returned to his alma mater as a special education teacher. It is a fulfillment of a pledge he made during his senior year while applying for the Bill Campbell Scholarship. In his application, Riley wrote that he wanted to find a way to give back to his community. To learn more about the impact Steel Valley has had on Austin and to see the initiatives he wants to introduce to the special education curriculum, read the full story here.

Special education teacher Austin Riley poses in the high school hallway

Kennedy Smith embraces work with Best of the Batch Foundation

Christmas 2020 marked a milestone for Kennedy Smith.

For the first time since he could remember, the Steel Valley graduate wasn’t on a bus traveling to a high school or college gymnasium for a basketball game. This time, he was home with his family without any worries about getting to practice or finding a court to get in a workout.

“My whole life was kind of centered around sports, from when I was six all the way up until 22, when I finally finished playing,” Smith said. “Last year was one of the first years that I just stayed home and didn’t have to worry about anything…and that was a great feeling.”

Basketball was Kennedy Smith’s ticket to college. The 2016 Steel Valley graduate shined on the court for the Ironmen. But college basketball provided a rude awakening. He wasn’t the star anymore, and it became clear that basketball was not in his future. 

In search of a new purpose, Smith found himself on a path of community service. He’s now the community and social outreach manager at the Best of the Batch Foundation in Munhall, where he’s able to give back to the community that played an integral role in his childhood. To learn more about his role with the Batch Foundation, read more.

Steel Valley alumni Kennedy Smith poses outside of the Batch Foundation.