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

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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.


Carbon Technology

Pioneering a Better World


As part of the STEM Career Tours, the students at Providence Heights Alpha School had the honor of visiting a company that has made it their mission for making the world a better place through carbon technologies. During World War 2, the military asked the Pittsburgh Coke and Chemical to develop a new material to use in gas masks to filter out the contaminants. It was there that the Calgon Carbon Corporation was formed with the goal of revolutionizing carbon technologies. The Calgon Carbon Corporation has made it their mission to protect people and the environment from contaminants in water, air, food and industrial processes. They do this through their various carbon technologies that use activated carbon. What is activated carbon? Activated carbon is a porous material that removes organic compounds from liquids and gases by a process that is known as adsorption. Through this process, the organic molecules contained in a liquid or gas are attracted and bound to the surface of the pores of the activated carbon as the liquid or gas is passed through it. Our students were amazed by what we saw at Calgon Carbon and were truly inspired by what the company is achieving. Most of the students had never heard of these processes before and were very interesting in learning further details by asking questions to our tour guides.

The end goal for Calgon Carbon is to create a cleaner and better world for people to enjoy. Their message to the students was not only inspiring, but also encouraging. The students enjoyed learning about how important the use of carbon technology is in our world, and how much contaminants can be found in everyday products and processes. We thank Calgon Carbon for taking the time out of their day to accommodate us and really appreciate them educating the students on their products and mission.


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.

TechShop Pittsburgh

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour TechShop 7One of the last stops on our June 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour was TechShop Pittsburgh located in Bakery Square in Pittsburgh’s East End.  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!

Our guide, Justin Harvilla, began as a member at TechShop Pittsburgh, joining to have a place to do sculpting.  After being a member, he joined the staff.  He provided us with a great tour of the facility, giving us an overview of all the equipment available at the facility.  After touring, we were treated to a demonstration of the laser cutter.  The laser cutter enables carving and whittling of cardboard, glass, wood and other materials with amazing accuracy.  Laser cutting directs a high-power laser through optics. The focused laser beam is directed at the material, which then melts or burns the material, leaving an edge with a high-quality surface finish.  As opposed to being controlled manually by hand wheels or levers, the laser is guided by precise programmed commands.   Etched Grow a Generation LogoAdvantages of laser cutting over mechanical cutting include an easier ability to secure the material as it is being machined and a reduction in contamination of the material.  Additionally precision may be better, since the laser does not wear during the process.  As a souvenir of our visit, our guide presented us with laser cutting the the ‘Grow a Generation’ tree.  So cool!

The visit to TechShop Pittsburgh was amazing. We were all inspired by not only the endless possibilities to create at TechShop Pittsburgh, but also by the community-based environment.  

Check out the upcoming workshops.   

A Chat at Chatham: Falk School of Sustainability

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability 1On our last day of the 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour, we went to the Falk School of Sustainability. The Falk School of Sustainability was founded in 2010 at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. It was inspired by the work of Rachel Carson, famed author and environmentalist (and 1929 Chatham University alumni), who advocated sustainability and the importance of environmental protection.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability 13Our tour was led by Dr. Peter Walker, the Dean at the Falk School. Our first stop was the experimental garden, where students plant different flora and add/adjust variables related to the growth to test their hypotheses. For example, some students developed a “high-rise apartment” for wild bees made out of cardboard and supplemented with other necessities to attract bees to stay and pollinate the garden consistently. Another student was testing the effectiveness of solar energy on a black tarp as a weedkiller.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability 11_edited-1After the garden, we went across the street to the eco amphitheatre and dairy barn turned cafe. The cafe, we learned, is heated by a geothermal loop, which  stores the hot and cold air from the different seasons and uses them to heat or chill the cafe based on the temperature.

We learned that the school uses natural bacteria and other filters to treat all water on campus, succeeding in places water back into the earth cleaner than before use on campus.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability 9Some of this water goes to their Aquaculture Center, where they use more natural filters to create ideal environments for their fish. They also filter the water that is tainted with ammonia through the nitrogen cycle on site.

We finished of the tour at the dining hall, where we got to learn about their various STEM inspired degrees, including  the: Master of Arts in Food Studies (MAFS), Master of Sustainability (MSUS), Bachelor of Sustainability (BSUS), and the dual-degree Master of Sustainability-Master of Business Administration (MSUS-MBA).

CWNC Biology students visit Knopp Biosciences, Duquesne’s Department of Biology and the Hillman Cancer Center

Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Careers Tour 2016Biology students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School embarked on a STEM Careers Tour!

The first stop on the tour was Knopp Biosciences located in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. Knopp Biosciences is a drug development company, equipped with state-of-the-art electrophysiology, cell biology, and medicinal chemistry labs. Their current focus is to develop drugs to treat epilepsy and asthma. Prior to touring their labs, students sat down with their biologists and chemists (over bagels and coffee!) and learned about their educational and professional backgrounds. Knopp professionals provided advice for the students planning to pursue STEM degrees (HINT: get research experience in college!).

Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Careers Tour 2 Students then toured the organic chemistry lab at Knopp Biosciences, where their chemists are working to develop organic molecules designed to hit specific biological targets. Once the compounds are developed, they are tested by the biologists to determine if they are causing the desired response in the cell line. The biologist communicates her findings back to the chemist, so she can alter the molecule in an effort to get the desired response in the cells. Once a compound shows the desired result in the lab, it is shipped out for further testing on lab animals to see not only if the desired result is still achieved but also, what other responses the drug may cause in the animal. Biologists at Knopp Biosciences are also studying how a small molecule they developed reduces a variety of white blood cells and assists in the treatment of asthma.
Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Careers Tours 3 The next stop on the tour was the Department of Biological Sciences at Duquesne University. The department has 16 faculty members focused on teaching and research. We ate our brown bag lunches while listening to a student panel of graduate and undergraduate biology students talk about their experience transitioning to college, why they chose to major in biology, and why they decided to continue with a graduate degree. They advised students to master time management, join extra-curricular activities on campus, and develop a rapport with your professors. After the student panel, several professors spoke to us about their research. Unique to the Department of Biological Sciences at Duquesne University, we learned about the SuperLab course, where students get hands-on laboratory experience by identifying a mystery micro-organism one semester and confirming their result via DNA testing a second semester.

Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Career Tours 4For our last stop of the STEM Careers Tour, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic students visited The Hillman Cancer Center where they toured the labs of Dr. Lisa Butterfield. The labs study the interaction between the immune system and cancer. Dr. Butterfield recommended that students who have an interest in research to get experience in different labs and with different areas of research to understand what they like to do. She said that she is constantly reviewed and critiqued, but that it makes her better at what she does. The next tour at the Hillman Cancer Center was the labs of Dr. Timothy Burns that study the development of targeted therapies for treating lung cancer. Dr. Burns has both his PhD. And MD., which he says enables him to treat the patients that are in his clinical studies. Students were encouraged to apply to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Academy that enables students as young as 15 years of age to spend their summer conducting research.

Students who attended the tour gained a better understanding of not only the careers available to them within the biological sciences, but also a sense of the people and working environments in these dynamic and growing fields.


Grow a Generation CWNC Biology 2016 STEM Careers Tour 5

“It was an amazing experience!”

“It was interesting to see all the different labs and how equipment and technique vary.”

“I enjoyed seeing how all the scientists work together.”

Is your school or classroom looking for a daylong STEM Careers Tour?

Visit for information and to request a quote.


Platypus LLC STEM Careers Tour – Flood Gates of Collaboration

Platypus LLC and Grow a Generation STEM Careers TourOut of our sixteen tours, the tour of Platypus, LLC was my favorite. Platypus, LLC is a Pittsburgh based company that provides environmental monitoring solutions for water bodies using autonomous robotic boats. Pras Velagapudi, their Chief Technology Officer, was our guide.

Platypus LLC and Grow a Generation Distributive RoboticsHe started by explaining how Platypus used a combination of marine, electrical,  and software engineering to make their autonomous robotic boats. Marine engineering shaped the hull and kept the boat buoyant.  We had an opportunity to examine some of their recent designs created in house with vacuumed formed ABS plastic to form a four foot by two foot floating machine that has a fan on the top. The boat is only 8 inches deep deliberately built to make little environmental impact. The fan can be turned by the motor and controls the direction and propulsion. The design can be made larger or smaller and replicated to allow many robotic boats to work together collecting data.
Platypus LLC and Grow a Generation STEM Careers Tours Mechanical - Electrical - Marine - Software - Engineers
They used electrical engineering to connect the sensors, motors, smartphone, and powersource. Engineers used a smartphone as their onboard computer system as a simple used phone can be installed with software to perform monitoring work, serve as the wifi-enabled communication system, an inertia measurement system to measure velocity, orientation, and gravitational forces, and a GPS. The battery of the smartphone can be recharged and sent out for hours of operation at a time.
Platypus LLC and Grow a Generation STEM Careers Tours Cooperative AirboatsSoftware engineering was needed to program the robotic boats to act autonomously to collect data and not run into each other. Smartphone technology was coupled with an Arduino and programmed with open source software for both the operation of the Platypus robotic boats and the data processing for whatever monitoring the boat is commissioned for. This software is available for download at and uses Netbeans for GUI, Eclipse on a Nexus 7 Android phone and C+ + MakeFiles for its firmware.
Platypus LLC and Grow a Generation STEM Careers Tours Brain TrustsThe company was formed out of a CMU Robotics Research Group trying to test a platform for their autonomous interactive programming. The CMU roboticists had determined that there were too many obstacles on the ground and struggled to find a good power source for the air. Water robotics gave them the opportunity to avoid harmful collisions and utilize small amounts of energy. Platypus was founded when the roboticists learned of the potential markets and demand for autonomous boats with the environmental testing, fisheries, and flood water monitoring.
Platypus LLC and Grow a Generation STEM Careers Tour WorkshopPras showed us some of the interesting designs Platypus is producing for varying sized boats. While some of their experimental designs were made out of styrofoam, composite materials shaped by vacuum molds were used to create boats Platypus needed to mass produce.
Since Platypus’ mission is to assist the environment, their intellectual property isn’t patented and is available open source. This allows anybody who needs the information to gain access to it, experiment and make changes to the systems as they require.
Platypus LLC and Grow a Generation STEM Careers Tour Autonomous BoatDoes your child have a research fellows’ project idea that would employ some of Platypus autonomous robotic systems? Apply today for a Grow a Generation Research Fellowship for support and mentorship! Is your school or classroom looking to arrange a STEM Careers Tour to bring to life engineering and STEM curriculum? Contact us to help make plans for your group of students.

Schroeder Industries, CCBC Aviation Sciences Academy, and Ellwood City Forge

Friday, July 10, 2015 found the CWNC Summer STEM Careers Tours at Schroeder Industries, CCBC Aviation Sciences Academy, and Ellwood City Forge.

Platypus LLC, Robert Morris University, and Bayer Material Science

Thursday, July 9, 2015 found our CWNC Summer STEM Tour at Platypus LLC, Robert Morris University, and Bayer Material Science.

First Energy, Forensic Science, and First Insight

Wednesday, July 8, 2015 found our CWNC Summer STEM Tour at First Energy, the Forensic Science Department at Point Park University, and First Insight.

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