STEM Career Tours

Inspiring the pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math literacy, skills, and careers.

ContainerShip: Programming in the Cloud

On Friday, February 17th, 2017, several North Catholic students began their venture into the Computer Science field with a visit to ContainerShip. Found in Oakland Pittsburgh, ContainerShip is a Multi-Cloud Automated Server, in other words ContainerShip gets rid of the hassle and brings anything you could desire onto the Internet and into the public’s hands.

Being a computer programmer no longer means sitting in a dark room typing endless series of code. ContainerShip has a very modern and comfortable environment for its employees. Between the pleasant gleeful environment and the Ping-Pong and Foosball tables one can quickly see how enjoyable and rewarding a job in the computer science field is. Once we were there and had a quick peek around, ContainerShip’s CEO, Phil Dougherty, took us into their meeting room and began breaking down what their operation exactly is. He gave the students some background of himself and the company and how they monitor and aid in traffic conditions for other websites and Internet applications.

Phil Dougherty explained how there is traffic when it comes to the Internet, sometimes a website may undergo millions of visits from different users in a sort of rush hour sense while on the contrary the same website may experience times when there is no one on their website. ContainerShip aids in traffic control by opening up more servers and connections like roads for the traffic to go through so the website or app can maintain peak performance.

From beginning as a hobby to becoming a company collaborating with some biggest leaders of industry, Phil Dougherty and his team showed us how rewarding and beneficial to society someone in the computer science field is.

Ascender: The Startup for Startups

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic’s AP Computer Science Principles class recently toured the offices of Ascender in Pittsburgh. Ascender is the next step in evolution of venture capitalism growing out the work the company did under the name Thrill Mill. Instead of merely providing funds for companies to begin work on making a viable product, Ascender takes this much farther. In addition to capital, they provide everything from mentoring and leadership to office space and team building resources. Moreover, they are continuing to find ways to do so much more.

Leading the tour was Jennifer Sharpe, Program Manager for Ascender, who also gave an informative and stimulating presentation on everything that Ascender does to help make STEM based industry in the city of Pittsburgh grow. As a part of the presentation, she had the students participate in an exercise mirroring the process by which companies are selected for Ascender’s incubation chamber. The students were given three pitches by various potential companies, including team members, and the product idea. After careful consideration, the determination had to be made as to which idea was most viable to make a profit.

Jennifer also included information on “Thrival,” Ascender’s yearly music festival and innovation conference. Part of the mission of Ascender is to help usher in a new wave of modern industry. By converting an old Steel Mill into a place where people can come together with new ideas, Ascender is poised to help bring Pittsburgh into the here and now of STEM industry.
After the presentation, the students were able to walk around and see first hand the office space and workstations the ascender has to offer, as well as a few of the companies currently utilizing Ascender’s services to make their dreams a reality.

CADD Connections: Cadnetics

One of the most gratifying moments for a teacher is to see students engaged in purposeful wonder.  I saw this in my students’ interaction with James Mauler and Travis Johnson, the president and vice president of Cadnetics respectively. Facilitated by STEM Career Tours, students enrolled in the Introduction to Computer-Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) course at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School were able to see how their newly acquired skills are put to work in Greater Pittsburgh.  This blog will highlight student experiences on the final stop of the STEM tour, Cadnetics.

The use and application of technology captured students’ attention during our visit with James and Travis.  They witnessed a laser scanner render a three-dimensional model of the room they were in.  The model was created and could then be manipulated using similar CADD software to what we use in the classroom.  Of course, I had to deflect questions like, “why don’t we have a laser scanner at school,” and “why can’t we make models like this!”  But, these questions reflect a level of interest and engagement I had not seen in the classroom.

The curriculum at CWNCHS emphasizes the capability of computers to increase, Precision, Efficiency, and Communication in the design process.  Of these three, Communication in design was demonstrated at Cadnetics.  We learned that the company provides services to multiple disciplines across many industries.  The common thread was communication through visualization of a project.  Whether through technical drawings or illustrative renderings, Cadnetics can put a computer two work with purpose.  Students were struck by the fact that this local company is having a national and even global impact through their knowledge of CAD.

The most important lesson students gleaned during our trip was that the company covets students with short term, 1-2 year, technical degrees.  Cadnetics values employees with very specified skill sets.  James commented that jack-of-all-trade graduates with 4-year degrees often lack the ability to produce results efficiently.  This was a refreshing perspective from an employer who is constantly looking for talent to grow his business. Students need to see that a 4-year degree is not the only path that can lead to success.  Perhaps one of my CAD students will work for Cadnetics one day.

CADD Connections: Robert Morris University’s Department of Engineering

One of the most rewarding challenges for a classroom teacher is to use curriculum as a means to connect students to their desired end, to stimulate their thinking and illuminate possible career paths. Facilitated by STEM Career Tours, students enrolled in the Introduction to Computer-Aided Design and Drafting course at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School were able to see how their newly acquired skills are put to work in Greater Pittsburgh. This blog will highlight student experiences on the second stop of the STEM tour, Robert Morris University’s Department of Engineering.

Students immediately contrasted the scale of RMU’s STEM efforts to our own at CWNC. They were blown away by the amount of computer aided machinery available to the engineering students. As a teacher, it was encouraging to hear phrases like “I might just apply here,” and “wait, you mean students can use all of this?”

In our CADD class, students have been using software to create digital models. At RMU, students got to see how these models can be fabricated through the manufacturing process. Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) was on full display in the department of engineering, and it peaked students’ curiosity and creativity. They wondered how a 2D drawing could be used to guide the arm of a robotic router and etch a precise name into a plastic block. They also mused about the countless other applications of this technology. Seeing this inspired me to push the curriculum further in future iterations of this course. It is my goal to provide opportunities for students to fabricate their own drawings and complete the CADD-CAM loop.

Our trip to RMU gave students a taste of what it would be like to continue to develop their CADD skills at the university level, they also got a literal taste of college when we stopped for lunch at a campus dining hall. Over lunch, I had the opportunity to chat with some students about their experience. Flashy highlights included the laser scanner that can generate a 3D CADD model from live readings in real-time and the massive machine responsible for pressing out plastic molds, but the most impactful comments involved a deeper realization. Students recognized that the seemingly simple skills they are developing in class are being honed at universities across the nation and deployed to solve some of our generations most pressing challenges. For example, we learned CADD-CAM is assisting concussion research and the development of prosthetics for amputees.

I like to change the narrative on the classic question “what do you want to do when you grow up?” Instead, I ask students what problem they are interested in solving with their life’s work. On this stop of our STEM Careers Tour, students saw that RMU is asking the same question of its engineering students.

CADD Connections: Michael Baker International

One of the most exciting aspects of a classroom teacher’s job is to connect their curriculum to real-world applications.  Facilitated by Grow a Generation’s STEM Career Tours, students enrolled in the Introduction to Computer-Aided Design and Drafting course at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School were able to see how their newly acquired skills are put to work in Greater Pittsburgh.  This blog will highlight student experiences on the first stop of the STEM tour, Michael Baker International.

Our experience at Michael Baker immediately validated the CADD curriculum at CWNCHS.  Students had the opportunity to see the actual models used in the construction and renovation of our roadways.  The models were generated using the same computer software we use in the classroom.  In fact, the models looked strikingly similar to the types of projects students had been completing throughout the first semester.  Although the projects were more robust, drafters had to use the same skills to develop them.

 

Tiahjure Harp, Zachary Diethorn, Ryan Baranowski, Nicholas Habrle, and Teacher David Yackuboskey from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic visiting Michael Baker on a STEM Career Tour

Students work with the bridge inspector, training software.  Yet another example of computers facilitating the field of transportation engineering.

 

 

 

 

One of the critiques of the course from one student’s perspective, Landon Pringle – a junior at CWNC, is that the content can be “tedious, and kind of boring.”  That same student couldn’t imagine the amount of detail oriented effort if would take to create such a model.  When asked for his thoughts, Landon replied, “I don’t think I could be a transportation engineer.  I mean it’s cool, but painstaking.”  From a teacher’s perspective, it means a lot to see that the skills used in the classroom are necessary in the work place.  Being able to reveal that to a student is what teaching is all about, even if they realize this particular career field doesn’t fit their skill set.

The CADD curriculum at CWNCHS emphasizes the capability of computers to increase, Precision, Efficiency, and Communication in the design process.  Of these three, Efficiency in the field of transportation engineering, was on full display at Michael Baker International.  Representatives showcased Michael Baker’s very own software that automates computer generated renderings of bridge cross-sections.  By simply inputting a few dimensions that are specific to the project, a drafter can efficiently compile a set of drawings to be quality checked by an engineer.  A second tool Michael Baker highlighted was bridge inspection, training software.  Students used the same software bridge inspectors are trained with to examine a virtual bridge; they navigated an environment, selected tools and analyzed structural concerns.  While this not a drafting application it is a prime example of using computers to increase efficiency in the field of transportation engineering.  

All in all, the time spent with Michael Baker International enriched the classroom experience.  CWNCHS is grateful for the opportunity to team up with STEM Career Tours and provide this trip for our students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huge Magnets Map Tiny Proteins

AP Biology students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School visited the Department of Structural Biology at the University of Pittsburgh. Students were led on a tour by Dr. Rieko Ishima, an associate professor and a principal investigator in the department. Dr. Ishima oversees a team of research associates and fellows who are currently working to determine protein structure and dynamics using nuclear magnetic resonance.

Protein images are beyond tiny! The nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of proteins does not ‘take a picture.’ Rather, it relies on complex mathematical calculations to build a three dimensional image of the protein.

During Dr. Ishima’s tour, students were shown various equipment used in cryo-electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, and x-ray crystallography. Students were fascinated not only by the incredible detail achieved in the digital images produced by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), but also by the sheer size of the equipment required to generate those results.

Though NMR examines molecular structure and dynamics at the atomic level, the spectrometers required to view particles that small are extremely large. Pitt has seven spectrometers in this department, and they are housed in 10,000 square foot laboratory. The students were amazed to learn that when the spectrometers were delivered, the first floor windows were removed to allow the equipment to be lowered into the NMR lab! We are standing in front of a two magnets that had to be lowered by crane through an open window.

Students were also able to tour the cryo-electron microscope facility, where three electron microscopes allow researchers to engage in structural analysis of proteins, viruses, cellular organelles and bacterial cells. Finally, Dr. Ishima and her team led students to the x-ray crystallography lab. Here, researchers are able to grow, store, and monitor crystals. Once crystals are ready for analysis, x-ray beams and image plate detectors are used to collect data about protein structures at the atomic level. While scientists in the lab often use tiny tools to manually transfer crystals for analysis, the lab also is equipped with a robot that can mount and collect data from up to 80 crystals for rapid analysis.

The field is extraordinary.

Did you know Zebrafish Embryos are Transparent?

On November 18, 2016, AP Biology students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School participated in a STEM Careers Tour which included a visit to the Department of Developmental Biology at the University of Pittsburgh. Specifically, students were able to interact with Dr. Michael Tsang, an associate professor who is currently conducting research in Pitt’s zebrafish aquaria. In the zebrafish facility, one of the largest in the world, researchers are engaging in multiple large-scale projects which use the zebrafish to understand how organs such as the liver, kidney and heart develop in the embryo.

The visit began with a presentation by Dr. Tsang, during which he explained his research and the benefits of experimenting with zebrafish. Students learned that zebrafish are ideal subjects for experimentation because they are small and easily maintained, embryos are transparent and easily visualized during development, and they are able to repair and regenerate damaged tissue. All of the students were fascinated when they learned that, after a few weeks at the bottom of the tank, zebrafish that have sustained a severed spinal cord are able to repair the damage and regain mobility!

After this presentation, students were able to experience a tour of the zebrafish aquaria, which contains over 11,000 tanks housing over 500,000 zebrafish. While touring the facility, students asked a wide variety of questions about the logistics in place to maintain such a large research lab, and they learned that while the tanks are self-cleaning, university employees spend several hours each day feeding the fish. The rows of tanks with tiny, newly-hatched fish were a highlight of the tour, but the students were most intrigued by the fluorescent green zebrafish. These genetically modified fish carry the gene for Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), which allows researchers to better identify abnormalities, such as those that lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.

Most importantly, students engaged in dialogue with Dr. Tsang about both the benefits and ethical obligations of animal testing. The visit to the lab, and particularly this conversation with Dr. Tsang, ignited a desire in many of the students to pursue ongoing research with zebrafish. Sixteen AP Biology students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic are preparing experimentation results currently being conducted with both adult and embryonic zebrafish for entry into the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair! Mrs. Murray classroom is becoming its own zebrafish aquaria and the contacts she made on the tour have become mentors in her ongoing efforts to make biology come to life for all her students.

 

Sharp Edge Labs at the Cutting Edge

Written by Alex Hoehn and Lena Clerici

Our A.P Biology was honored with visiting three biology based laboratories. Sharp Edge Labs was one of our stops, and our favorite stop of the day. Sharp Edge Labs is a small company who specializes in discovering drugs to treat genetic disorders of protein trafficking. Being able to meet such a compelling and intelligent scientist such as Dr. Scott Sneddon only increased our interest in the field of biology and ensured that this is the field that we want to pursue. The way he spoke about very complicated subjects was very interesting and we could not help but listen to every word he said and actually understand. Sharp Edge labs is a breakthrough company and we are sure that we will be hearing about them in the future.  Even our AP Biology teacher, Mrs. Amy Murray, walked away with the statement, “that actually changes how (even what!) I teach.”

Sharp Edge Labs has launched a patient-driven program with the purpose discovering drugs that prevent or reduce the effects of faulty protein trafficking due to monogenic diseases. These monogenic diseases encompass disorders such as Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Gaucher’s disease. The root cause of these conditions is a due to a defect in one gene caused by improper protein trafficking. Other companies used gene replacement therapy to replace the defective enzyme, permitting proper function. However, Sharp Edge Labs is taking a new route in the journey to accomplish the same goal. Rather than using gene replacement therapy, they are using the “small-molecule” approach. The size of the molecule causes no hindrance when traveling towards the target.

These molecules are targeted towards deformed proteins with the purpose of reconstructing the damaged proteins. Reconstructing the damaged proteins allows proper protein trafficking to resume. Protein trafficking is a “lock and key” task. Each signal chemical has a 3D specific counterpart receptor. If this protein receptor is damaged, the protein does not receive the signal; therefore, the protein does not perform its necessary function, sometimes leading to the aggregation of proteins. This break in the chain of commands results in diseases such as Gaucher’s as well as ALS.

Today, in Sharp Edge Labs patient program, when a patient enters the trial, a sample of the patient’s cells are used to determine which compounds should be properly used to restore protein trafficking. This approach provides more effective treatments earlier than if the patient was given the compound upon beginning the trial. Sharp Edge Labs currently is running three different trials; Cystic Fibrosis: CFTR Trafficking, Lysosomal Storage Disorders: Trafficking Assays, and Trafficking Defects in Parkinson’s Disease.

We were able to experience and learn about a drug discovery program that has the potential to revolutionize the medical treatment industry. Contrary to the what we thought as we began the day, these profound discoveries are not only made by companies with large research and development departments. Rather, small companies such as Sharp Edge Labs have the capability to make these types of discoveries.

If someone is interested in studying medicine/biology, we would highly recommend visiting Sharp Edge Labs located in Pittsburgh, Pa. It helped us to realize that even the most devastating diseases can be prevented and our future as biologists can save many lives in the process. For such a small company, their attention to detail and pride in what they are doing is inspiring to us and to many others. They are a very diverse team who wants people of different mindsets to come up with various ideas on how to treat many fatal diseases. They truly want to help people in need, and that quality is attractive to many people. Overall, the trip to Sharp Edge Labs was our favorite of our three trips and gave us an insightful view of how the medical industry is evolving.

 

A Visit to Google and TechShop

grow-a-generation-ms-hs-stem-careers-tour-2016-google-5 grow-a-generation-ms-hs-stem-careers-tour-2016-techshop-24 grow-a-generation-ms-hs-stem-careers-tour-2016-techshop-29This past weekend, a group of middle school and high school students participated in a STEM Careers Tour of Google and TechShop Pittsburgh. What a exciting day!

Our first stop was Google located in the old Nabisco factory in Pittsburgh’s East End. Google is celebrating its tenth anniversary in Pittsburgh and now employs nearly 500 people!

For the first part of our tour we participated in a hand’s on programming activity. We worked in teams programming in the language of our choice (JavaScript or Python) in the browser game CodeCombat. It was fun to see how many levels we could accomplish in our group. Our programming guide mentioned that computer scientists just can’t ‘google’ an answer when they get stuck with their programming code, so there is a lot of discovery that is required in their work. He also mentioned that it is okay for them to fail, but they need to look at their failures and understand why they occurred.

After our entertaining introduction to computer programming, we attended a question and answer session with several Google employees that included software engineers and product technology managers, all with a degree in computer science. We learned so much about Google! When asked where they see Google in 10 years, the panel said that they look to us to determine that. They could not have predicted where Google would be today ten years ago…smartphones have changed everything. The work environment at Google is team based with a lot of collaboration. Everyone has access to everyone else’s code. When asked about the Google Doodle, we learned that there is a specific team dedicated to determining what, where, and when the Google Doodle will be shown, and they have complete autonomy to choose. The computer programmers also mentioned that they have no fear of artificial intelligence taking over the world. They said that there are so many limitations that exist. When looking for employees, along with being super smart, Google also values people who are helpful, respectful, trustworthy, and passionate. They look for people who will fit into their culture, but not people who are identical to everyone else. They value diversity.

For the last part of our visit we toured of the amazing offices at Google. There are no closed offices at the site, and each floor of the building has a specific Pittsburgh theme: from the Nabisco factory to Kennywood to a floor paying tribute to Pittsburgh’s bridges. The conference room names and hallway decor are filled with design elements that reflect their floor’s theme. Walking from the 6th to the 7th floor feels like you walking up the ramp to ride the Jack Rabbit! Food is also a major part of the Google work environment. To ensure that discomforts don’t become distractions, Google has mini-kitchens stocked with food near all work spaces. Healthy food options are left in plain view for employees to take, while the not-so-healthy options are present, but a bit harder to find. Google also provides breakfast, lunch and dinner to the employees at no cost! Each Google office has one unique design feature and the Pittsburgh office is no different. A large cargo net is suspended from the ceiling to provide a very different meeting space, resting place, or whatever space. Believe it or not, but Google Pittsburgh also keeps their own chickens housed on the roof and their own bees for fresh honey. What an amazing work environment!

The next stop on our STEM Careers Tour was Techshop Pittsburgh located across the street from Google. TechShop Pittsburgh is a do-it-yourself makerspace, where you can create anything that you can imagine. There is equipment for woodworking, laser cutters, 3D printers, a metal shop, sewing machines, a waterjet cutter, an injection molding machine, and a plastic extruder. For a membership fee you have access to training and use of all this equipment, but you can also pay-as-you-go for workshops, classes and camps. Entrepreneurs, artisans and inventors are all welcome to create their masterpieces. You bring your idea, and TechShop provides the access, knowledge and speed. There are currently ~500 members at the Pittsburgh site and membership starts $150 per month. With someone to teach you how to use the tools you can get from idea to creation in very little time!

What an awesome day! If you are feeling inspired to continue learning computer programming, check out Google CS First at www.cs-first.com and start your own computer science club. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be hanging out in a cargo net writing code.

Army Corps of Engineers – Emsworth Locks and Dams

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Emsworth Locks and Dams 24The last day of the 2016 STEM Careers Tour began with a visit to the Emsworth Locks and Dams which is operated by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. It is one of six major river facilities on the Ohio River in the Pittsburgh Engineering District located near the towns of Emsworth, Avalon and Ben Avon, Pennsylvania, 6.2 miles below Pittsburgh. It was built in 1919 at a cost of $5.8 million and has undergone several renovations. Today it averages about 470 commercial lockages every month and about 375 additional lockages of pleasure crafts during the summer months.

The Pittsburgh District of the US Army Corp of Engineers is responsible for providing the engineering expertise that is needed for the design and upgrades of the Emsworth Locks and Dams. Located in the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh they are responsible for water infrastructure, environmental management and restoration, response to natural and manmade disasters, and engineering services.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Emsworth Locks and Dams 11When we arrived for our tour, we were outfitted with life jackets, and began the walk over to the lock system. We were fortunate to see a commercial barge in the lock chamber waiting for the water to rise, so it could continue its journey upstream. As the vessel waited in the chamber, valves gradually let water into the chamber from the upper pool behind the dam through culverts in the lock wall. It usually takes about an hour for the water level to reach the desired height. A boat usually waits about an hour for the water levels to reach equilibrium. No pumping is necessary since the water moves by gravity. Once the water reached the same level on both sides of the gates, one set of gates was opened to let out the boat. Our guide let the students operate the controls and open the lock gates. So cool!

We next toured the gated dams located at the Emsworth site. The gates dams are used to increase the control of the water levels in the river to help aid in river transportation. They have no effect, neither positive nor negative, on the flood heights. There are large concrete piers that house the equipment that raises and lowers the dams. The amount of water passing under the gates is increased when the river flow is high and it is decreased when river flow is low in order to maintain the river at a constant level. Due to the high piers the dam is easily seen from downriver, however boaters still need to remain caution for they can be caught in the strong currents that exist on either side of the dam. The view from on top of the dam was breathtaking, but the tour is not recommended for those with a fear of heights.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Emsworth Locks and Dams 19Touring the Emsworth Locks and Dams was definitely a highlight of the 2016 STEM Careers Tour. We were so fortunate to have a beautiful to tour and arrive during a lockage!

Pathways for Students

 

 

 

I AM THE CORPS

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