Editor’s note: During Black History month, PennLive is paying tribute to the people who are helping shape what will some day be the history of the Black community in Central Pennsylvania.
These are people who are examples of excellence, who inspire those around them for the work they do, the art they create, or the causes for which they fight.
This is one in an ongoing series of profiles that will be featured this month on PennLive and in The Patriot-News.
As an educational leader in Harrisburg, Sieta Achampong has touched the lives of hundreds of students who later succeeded in college, including Ivy League universities, and landed in leadership roles in many professions.
Her vision and tenacity helped Harrisburg High School’s Sci Tech campus win a Blue Ribbon Award in 2018, the nation’s highest education honor.
The next year, she learned she had stage 3 breast cancer. But that devastating diagnosis didn’t stop her.
She continued working as she fought for her life and then — always an educator — created a video series about unforeseen aspects of fighting breast cancer called Cancer Speaks.
Achampong was promoted last year and now oversees both high school campuses.
One of her strengths is convincing students they can succeed, despite setbacks. She’s not afraid to share her own story of growing up in Allison Hill with her grandparents, not knowing her father, becoming a teen mother — and still finding ways to achieve.
Achampong was senior class president, student council president and homecoming queen, then won a full scholarship to Shippensburg University. Upon graduation, she landed back in her hometown at the Rowland School, then Sci Tech, where she pursued her master’s degree and principal’s certification.
She worked for a while in Lancaster County, at a school with a slower pace, while she pursued her doctorate and raised two daughters with help from a supportive husband.
It wasn’t easy, but it was possible. That’s the message she likes to instill in students: Don’t give up. Education is the greatest equalizer.
“If you don’t do anything else, get your high school diploma,” she says. “Or get your GED. People can take everything away from you. But your knowledge and education, no one can ever take that away.”
Her first job as a doctor was at Sci Tech, where she boosted the academic rigor to better prepare students for college. She was the campus’ beloved principal from 2013 until her promotion.
She misses seeing students face-to-face under the remote-learning model, but the flexibility to work from home has been a blessing as she deals with cancer-treatment side effects, including radiation damage affecting her feet and legs. She uses a cane, and has another surgery slated for March.
She is in remission but must take “chemo pills” for five years to try to keep the cancer away.
In addition to her educational contributions, Achampong is a woman of faith, an author under her motivational business called ”God Wins” and is active in Zeta Phi Beta, including serving as state director and local chapter president.
“If there was a way for me, they can definitely do it,” she said. “Latch onto someone who believes in you, and have those people in your corner and you’ll be just fine.”
READ: Harrisburg SciTech principal battles breast cancer as her students run to raise awareness of the disease
READ: Harrisburg students walk out of class to protest loss of full-time principal