STEM Career Tours

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

Category: Sustainable Energy

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!

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.

 

Fresh Fish in a Desert

My name is Tim Roos, I’m a sophomore at North Catholic, and I recently went on the sustainability field trip at North. On the field trip, we stopped at the Oasis Farm Fishery in Homewood. The main topic of the tour as sustainability, and how Oasis has incorporated it into its function. Homewood is what is considered a food desert, which is an area that has no access to fresh fruits or vegetables.

At Oasis Farm Fishery, our tour guide, Casey, led us around the greenhouse. There were several aquaponics and trellis systems, growing different types of vegetables including lettuce turnips and beets. Oasis Farm Fishery is impacting its community in more than one way. It is providing vegetables and tilapia to the community, while also offering educational opportunities and is having a positive influence in its surrounding area, helping a community in need.

Our Bio class discussed sustainable agricultural practices such as aquaponics, but I know so much more now that I went to Oasis Farm Fishery. For instance, I didn’t know that you want the roots of plants to be white, which shows that there is a good amount of oxygen present. Oasis Fishery is using the most with what they’ve got. If the temperature becomes too hot in the greenhouse, they cover the sides with a metal-mesh cover, that reflects 50% of the sunlight and warmth, so the vegetables don’t fry to death. Every so often insects enter the greenhouse and eat away at the crops. Once Casey notices the insect problem, he will introduce a predator to the greenhouse. For example, if aphids are the problem, he would introduce ladybugs.

Since Day 1 our biology teacher, Mrs. Steiniger, has taught us that conservation starts with the community. We must adapt to our Earth’s needs. Organizations like Oasis Farm Fishery are pioneers for the future and set a great example for future generations.

Multidisciplinary Super-team: CMU Sustainability

Fifteen students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic got the incredible opportunity to travel around the Pittsburgh area and learn first-hand about sustainability and engineering. We heard from many great minds in the fields of engineering and conservation.  I was one of these students, and the whole day was eye-opening and I learned an incredible amount of important information.  One of our stops involved going to Carnegie Mellon University in North Oakland to learn about what CMU does to be sustainable. Another purpose was to be educated on their engineering major, and how that class involves a lot of environmental engineering and learning about sustainable engineering.

First, we heard from Gwen Dipietro, the instructor of Introduction to Sustainable Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. She talked about her course and what the experiments her students due to preserve biodiversity and remain sustainability. She also talked about her research she completed in Pittsburgh. She researched the tugboats that move coal through the locks and dams of Pittsburgh. Her goal was to see how much coal went through these locks and dams as well as how often these transports occurred. Her teaching assistant, Genna Waldvogel, also spoke about her life as an engineer and how sustainability plays a large part in it. She discussed her research project to get her Masters Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  It involved the chemicals in the rivers of Pittsburgh and their possible toxicity. These instructors are great examples of sustainability in engineering and making a choice to try to be as sustainable as possible.

Next, Ron Ripper spoke to us about the sustainable practices that Carnegie Mellon practices.  Ron Ripper is the Director of the Hauck Laboratories in Civil and Environmental Engineering. He spoke about how CMU composts and recycles, and the benefits to that. Carnegie Mellon has taken many steps to become more sustainable like paper utensils, wood coffee stirrers, and avoiding styrofoam. Although the benefits are easy to see, the cost of paper utensils is much higher and recycling and composting are time-consuming. This shows how dedicated CMU is to helping the environment and preserving our planet.

Andrea Rooney, the director of undergraduate programs in the department then spoke. She talked about a variety of topics, one of which being a project that her classes completed. It was all about exploring where each part of a product came from. She used the example of a water bottle and spoke about how the cap, wrapper and, even the ink all come from different places, increasing the carbon footprint needed to make the bottle. In her study, it was found that about six times the amount of water in a water bottle is needed to produce that water bottle. It was very interesting to hear all the seemingly nonexistent things that go into making a water bottle.

Finally, we watched a video featuring many of the students in the Civil Engineering Program at Carnegie Mellon University. They talked about their education and the hands-on learning that they get to do on a daily basis. It was very cool to see that all of these students genuinely enjoyed what they were doing. Overall, I learned so much about sustainability and conservation from these great engineering minds. They made me appreciate the little things that get overlooked all the time and realize that everyone can make a difference by doing small things.

PennEnergy Resources

“America is built on energy.”

The first stop of our 2016 STEM Careers Tour was PennEnergy Resources located in Robinson Township, a northwest suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. PennEnergy Resources is an independent oil & gas company with a focus on acquiring and developing oil and gas shale resources into operating wells and reserves. They currently have operations in Armstrong, Beaver, and Butler counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. Founded in 2011, they employ 32 professionals with over 425 years of industrial experience!

Due to safety concerns we were not able to visit an actual Penn Energy drilling facility for our tour, but we were provided an overview of their operations and introduced to many of the people who make it possible.

The first step in the process of developing a gas well is finding the gas. We learned that geologists use various tools and tests to analyze and determine where gas is located, how much is present, and the best location for the well.

Once the optimal location is determined, engineers and geologists study the operations and environmental permitting requirements. After the planning process is complete and regulatory approval received, construction begins on the drilling pad and location infrastructure. This step could include new bridges and roads to enable the access of equipment and minimize the impact on the environment. Large triple-lined water pits are also constructed to hold the water used in the drilling process. Once the site is complete, PennEnergy contracts the drilling operation to specialists in the field. The target area for the drilling is ~ 1 mile deep into the earth and then they drill ~1 mile horizontal within only a 10 foot vertical zone to extract the gas.

It was evident that the safety of employees, communities near the drilling sites, and the environment are a key focus at PennEnergy Resources. PennEnergy’s Director of Health, Environmental and Safety shared with us some of the policies that they implement to ensure safe work sites with little impact to the environment from such as the water pits that are triple lined to ensure that they do not leak into the ground water.  Engineers need to be good communicators as they go out into the community to address fears and concerns of communities.

It was very interesting talking to the people behind the process at PennEnergy Resource. They were extremely passionate about their jobs and the energy industry. Many have traveled throughout the country and seen the world working in the industry! They provided a lot of advice for the students:

Communication is key for success, both oral and written.
All education is a stepping stone.
You will ‘morph’ and evolve and your job will change as you gain experience in different areas.
Know your strengths and what you like.
Listen to the ‘old’ guys.

Although we weren’t able to visit an actual drilling site, our visit to PennEnergy Resources provided us with a great view of the company and their role in the oil and gas shale industry. The passion of the PennEnergy employees for their work and the energy was contagious.

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