STEM Career Tours

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

Author: Jacob Gorczyca

Visiting Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center

Sitting in the heart of Pittsburgh, the Energy Innovation center stands as a symbol of the changes taking place within the city. Once the Clifford B. Connelley Trade School, the Energy Innovation Center functions as a prototype example of taking an older style building and bringing it into the next century while still keeping the charm it possesses as a landmark of the city of Pittsburgh. On February 23rd, 2018 ten Students and two teachers from Seton LaSalle High School we gave the opportunity to tour the Energy Innovation Center, and see first hand the way a historical monument comes together with a sustainable future model.

The Energy Innovation Center is still being used to educate but is now gone away from the trades that the city of Pittsburgh was once known for. Their mission is to contribute to socially responsible workforce development, foster energy and sustainable technology advancement, and assist in job creation through a commitment to diversity, innovation and comprehensive education. It is referred to as a “green” energy center, a center for research and job training in the energy fields, including new, sustainable energy systems. Wind energy was the topic of our STEM Tour and a particular interest to the students working on a classroom book project, The Boy, the Bird, and the Turbine.

Within the walls of the Center you’ll find corporations and startups, and universities like Penn State and Pitt. Soon UPMC will be moving in and using a new state of art surgical suite in order to train sanitary operating room practices.  While they didn’t get to step inside, a tour guide pointed out the Electric Power Technologies Laboratory led by Dr. Reed.  The lab focuses on advanced electric power grid and energy generation, transmission, and distribution-system technologies; power electronics and control technologies; renewable energy systems and integration; smart grid technologies and applications; and energy-storage development.

Training at the Energy Innovation Center focuses on industry required certifications and skills  Courses are currently available in

 

The Introduction to the Trades class is a unique introductory overview to building trades. During the six-week course, participants are exposed to a wide range of skilled occupations, through field trips to state-of-the-art union training facilities, hands-on activities, and meetings with expert craftspeople representing 18 local trade unions. In addition, the classroom portion introduces key job readiness skills needed to begin a career in the building and construction trades. Upon completion, successful participants will have the option of taking the next step and applying for union apprenticeship.

The students were amazed by the environmentally friendly technical innovations that are quickly becoming the norm for the city. Innovations including water soaking asphalt in the parking lot and a vertical wind turbine to help supplement energy for the building. On the outside the box type of idea for the cooling system of the building, Joseph Rouse had this to say “I like this place the best.  It is so cool how they did the big containers of ice in the swimming pool for the air conditioning of this building!”

Dr. Anthony DeCaria, the students’ science teacher at Seton LaSalle High School, summed up the true purpose of the EIC when he said “It seems like a good place to launch an idea. It is a great environment for the cross-pollination of thoughts and collaboration.”

Wind and Driving Rain Power Students’ Imaginations

On February 23rd, 10 Students from Seton La Salle High School and a pair of their teachers visited a wind farm located in the heart of Patton Township. They stepped from the bus into driving rain and a wind that blew against them stinging their faces.  They met, huddled together among the cold and rain, with Michael Hoffman the Highland Assistant Site Manager for Everpower Wind Holdings.

The students were able to see firsthand the real physical reality of renewable wind energy. Towering 300 meters overhead the wind turbine stood cutting through the morning fog, rotating and continuously generating power. We were’t allowed to get too close, as the ice warnings from recent snow and rain made it unsafe.  The low hum of the the power substation was not audible over the driving wind which made the location perfect for harnessing of wind power.

While it was unfortunate that weather conditions, specifically the ice danger warning, prevented the students from being able to get right next to the turbine, the sense of scale was not lost on them. Many of the students were surprised by just how large the wind turbine actually stood. After a few minutes in the cold, everyone retreated back onto the bus for a brief explanation of the day to day operation of a wind farm from our guide for the outing.

We could see the substation from our bus windows. It was built to collect all the energy generated by the turbines and received through the Medium Voltage cables, transformers and a high voltage system to release the electricity into the grid.  Every megawatt of installed energy capacity create $1 Million in economic development according to the AWWI.  The short stop was well worth the time as we prepared for more time with Wind Power experts at St. Francis Institute for Energy and the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh.  The students are working hard on their children’s book about Wind Energy due for release soon!

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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