STEM Career Tours

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


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.

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.

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