STEM Career Tours

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

Author: Jacob Gorczyca

Riding the Winds at the St. Francis Institute for Energy

On Friday, February 23 2018, ten students and two teachers from Seton La Salle High School were invited to speak with the faculty and staff at the St. Francis University Institute for Energy Research. This visit was planned in conjunction with a fellowship project that the students are hard at work on, writing a children’s book on wind energy (The Boy, The Bird, and the Wind Turbine – coming in May!)

Upon arrival the students were met by Project Coordinator Michael Sells, and given a tour of the new state of the art science building on campus. This tour included a stop at a tropical fish tank large enough to scuba dive in, as well a lab containing 3d printers, and a look into some of the student lounges which are designed to facilitate the sharing of ideas among peers in the various departments.

After getting to see some of the sights inside, the students met up with the Institute Director, Allison Rohrs, who took them outside the see the tiny house, a small energy efficient structure, that is used to educate people across the whole state about the great ways that sustainable and renewable energy can make a very real impact on their lives.

After the tiny house, the students were brought inside for an incredible lunch and a presentation on wind energy in Pennsylvania. A presentation that included how wind turbines work, how a company maintains them, and how to determine where to place them to begin with.

This information proved very valuable to the students, who had been given a very real connection to the material they were writing about. Tyler Hill, after trying on the harness used to climb some of the smaller (150 foot) turbines said, “My favorite place was the university because I learned more about how turbines work, how gears move and how the windmill turns to face the direction of the wind.” Another classmate Carrie Martson stated, “I wish we had more time there.” While Joshua Mellor shared, “Saint Francis was the place for me because I could listen to the presentation and now I know a little more about how windmills work.”

Not only students had glowing things to say. Developmental English teacher Emily Rosati added “I really enjoyed the entire day! I thought from start to finish my students learned so much and can now feel more anchored to the content that we are writing about.  I loved Saint Francis and felt it was the perfect combination of information, entertainment, engagement, and macaroni and cheese! The kids loved that stop and I was pleasantly surprised with how much they knew!!”

She went on to describe the engagement and animation of several students who aren’t easily engaged.  The visit generated new layers of critical thought as they tried to integrate what they learned that conflicted with some of the details of their book.  It brought a new energy to a project that takes the whole school year to complete.

Again, a special thanks to Allison Rohrs and Michael Sell, as well as the rest of the staff and faculty of St. Francis University. It was truly a special day.


Bohler: The People That Make Sustainable Happen

On November 17, The Students of Mrs. Steiniger’s Biology class from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic arrived at the brand new Pittsburgh office of Bohler Engineering for a STEM Career tour all about sustainability. Bohler has been consulting on land development projects for a few decades now, and while not always demanded, they do consistently attempt to add as many green touches as possible to their projects.

After a look all around at the office space, including some employees very hard at work, the tour guide Micael Takacs took the students into a conference room for a look at some of the projects he personally had worked on. Mr. Takacs has worked on a number of sustainable projects in the area, including the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes, and the student’s very own Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School. Among the green innovations at both locations are clever systems for rainwater collection and reuse and rain gardens meant to prevent excess rain runoff. The students were very excited to learn that things they see every day have sustainable benefits that they were hitherto unaware of, and now can take on an entirely new meaning.

Mr. Takacs was also able to share knowledge of other sustainable projects of note and interest within the city, including a recently constructed building that can be opened up and cooled passively with natural air currents.

Bohler Engineering proved to be an excellent supplement to the sustainability education being provided by Mrs. Steiniger, and a great foundation upon which to continue building a bright sustainable future.

Greenest Space in the City

On Friday, November 17th Mrs. Steiniger’s Biology class from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School toured the Center For Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory, as part of Sustainability Stem Career Tour. The Center For Sustainable Landscapes is one of the greenest buildings in the world, meeting the requirements of the Living Building Challenge the strictest classification for a green building project.

After a short lecture explaining how the CSL came into being, they were given a tour showing off its plethora of sustainable features. From simple ideas such a shade that prevents the sun from heating rooms too much in the summer preventing excess air conditioner use to a rainwater collection system that is used for irrigation, the CSL is a modern marvel and perfect example of the ways we can minimize our impact on the environment in a large city.

Students were impressed by features like the lagoon, which aids in filtering waste water from the restrooms, to be reused in the toilets, and the rain gardens which help prevent excess rainwater from becoming a flooding issue for the area. These installations proved to be an excellent real-world example of many of the lessons they have been learning in their class. Even more impressive is the fact that this site, prior to being bought by Phipps, was a refueling depot with ground too toxic for anything to grow. Performing an environmental miracle of sorts, Phipps was able to reclaim land lost to careless destructive actions and turn it into something truly breathtaking.


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.

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