Monthly Archives: October 2017

Charleroi and Bentworth students kick off SPS project

SPS teams take on waste disposal challenge Our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) teams from Charleroi and Bentworth high schools kicked off a project with DMI Companies, a Monongahela-based manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) components. SPS pairs classrooms with business partners to give students Project-Based Learning opportunities and give businesses a fresh set …
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CTC students begin leadership training

Our new Leadership in Career & Technical Education (LCTE) program got underway in October when students came together from four career and technology centers (CTCs) for the first of four “pillar days” devoted to developing specific soft skills needed for leadership.

For the first session, the students learned a little about leadership overall, the soft skills it entails and what role those skills—from communication to critical thinking—play in creating resumes and applying for jobs.

Ben Stahl, DSc., Executive Director of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, gave the keynote address as well as a breakout session

“Leading is different than just managing,” Stahl told the teens, noting that both are important functions but that leading requires the traits that make people want to follow. “Listening is one of the most important.”

The Consortium is offering LCTE in collaboration with Leadership Pittsburgh and the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

In addition to Stahl, Jeff Nobers, Executive Director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania and Jenifer Riley-McClelland, a Human Resources staffer at Quick-Med Claims, hosted break-out sessions at the LCTE session. Riley-McClelland discussed how to present experience and skills on a resume and Nobers talked about the traits that lead to supervisory and leadership roles on construction crews and in trade unions.

Students also networked with peers from other districts and broke out of the comfort zones of their own schools for a team-building exercise known as the Marshmallow Challenge.

In addition to the multi-school “pillar day” training sessions, students in the leadership groups will meet periodically with instructors at their own CTCs to talk about and practice these transferrable skills.

Participating in the program are students from all four of Allegheny County’s CTCs—A.W. Beattie Career Center, Forbes Road Career & Technology Center, Parkway West Career & Technology Center and Steel Center for Career & Technical Education.


CCK helps Yough students explore apprenticeships

A group of students from Yough High School got a close-up look at trade apprenticeship opportunities this month when two training centers hosted them as part of our College & Career Knowledge (CCK) program. Early in the morning, students visited Steamfitters Local 449’s new state-of-the-art training center in Harmony, Butler County. After lunch, they visited the Ironworkers Local 3 training center in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. 

Hosts at both centers said that the trades offer lots of options that aren’t always apparent. Among them are opportunities to earn associate’s degrees and even bachelor’s degrees, Steamfitters Training Director Dale Glavin told the students. He said work in his field isn’t just installing the piping for industrial facilities, refrigeration systems and other applications. Steamfitters learn computer-aided design of piping systems, become skilled service technicians and can pursue supervisory and managerial positions as well.

He counseled that students interested in the program could make themselves stand out among applicants by getting jobs or even pursuing hobbies that show they have mechanical ability.

Representatives at both training centers said trades offer a very viable alternative to college for students who want one. The apprenticeship programs offer paid training and typically lead to jobs with high, five-figure incomes and substantial benefits.

In addition to learning about the programs and touring the training facilities, students participating in CCK also sometimes get a chance to try their hands at some of the skills apprentices learn. During their visit to the Ironworkers, a number of kids tried tying together the rebar used to strengthen the concrete cores of walls in office tower construction.




Conference offers insight into college transition

A panel of business leaders told educators attending our Bridges to College Success conference that they’re looking as much for transferrable, soft skills when they hire as they are for academic and technical proficiency. While not entirely surprised, attendees invariably said that insight underscored the need for giving students more opportunities to cultivate abilities like communication, problem-solving, organization and teamwork.  The Consortium co-hosted the conference with Pitt-Greensburg.

The panel discussion was designed to bring a real-world perspective to what it takes for students to succeed after graduation. Businesses and organizations represented in the discussion included Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Technology Council, Consol Energy, Excela Health, Westmoreland County Human Services, PNC Financial Services, and the American Association of Employment in Education. Bill Flanagan, host of Our Region’s Business on WPXI and Chief Corporate Relations Officer for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, moderated the panel.

Overall, the Bridges conference was designed to create dialogue between post-secondary and secondary educators around ways to minimize the difficulties many students face transitioning to college.

The Conference offered more than a dozen breakout presentations on topics ranging from challenges in admissions to test-anxiety, career trends, self-advocacy, making college affordable, understanding Generation Y students and a professor’s perspective on college preparedness. Additionally, there were facilitated roundtable discussions on various topics, including college level reading and writing, student expectations, and tutoring and other supports students can find on campus.

In addition to faculty and staff members from Pitt Greensburg, other post-secondary institutions hosting breakout sessions or facilitating discussions included Alderson Broadus Universty, California University of Pennsylvania, LaRoche College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, St. Vincent College, Seton Hill University and Slippery Rock University.

Among insights from the discussions:

  • Though raised with technology, kids don’t necessarily have the digital skills college professors and employers require, like facility with Microsoft Office
  • Challenges that students from low-income families face adjusting to college are often different and far greater than for their middle class and affluent peers
  • Strong communications skills, including writing, are paramount both in college and the workplace and often are the tie-breaker between two competing job applicants
  • Employers want applicants to be able to articulate how past experiences will enable them to “add value” in a workplace or make them more competent for a particular job
  • The best students not only are conscientious, they’re self-motivated, proactive and seek out what they need to know

SPS teams aim to expand theater’s market

As part of our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) program, teams from Albert Gallatin and Laurel Highlands high schools began a semester-long project this month to help Uniontown’s historic State Theatre Center for the Arts attract a younger audience. 

Opened as a movie theater nearly a century ago, the venue has seen its ups, downs and transformations. Ready availability of television entertainment combined with the advent of multi-screen theaters siphoned away patrons and forced its shutdown in 1973. It found new life several years later as a music hall featuring country western greats like Johnny Cash, but couldn’t sustain profitability. Revived a third time as a nonprofit by the Greater Uniontown Heritage Consortium in 1988, the theater has since pursued a mix of programming—from touring stage productions, to classic movies, school musicals and civic events. Still, it struggles to overcome multiple obstacles including an inability thus far to attract young patrons, Executive Director Erica Miller told students after they toured the theater in early October. 

The student teams will offer possible solutions as one of the Project-Based Learning opportunities SPS organizes between schools and businesses or organizations willing to let kids can try their hands at tackling real world problems. PBL not only gives students a chance to apply their classroom lessons, it also helps them develop the soft, transferrable skills needed to succeed in the workplace. At the same time, the students can bring fresh perspectives to the businesses and organizations that take them on as consultants.

Students peppered Miller with questions in anticipation of doing deeper research. They’ll reconvene at the theater in December to present their findings.





Alliance maps out year, gets research overview from REL

Educators involved in our Future Ready Alliance  got their 2017-2018 work underway this week, reviewing network goals and refining projects they plan to undertake in their schools and districts.

The Alliance, which also enlists partners from business and higher education, aims to help ensure students are getting the opportunities and experiences they need to prepare for post-secondary education and careers. Participating teams focus on giving students support, beginning in kindergarten, to answer three questions crucial to imagining and planning—Who am I? Who do I want to be? and How do I get there.

Greensburg Salem team analyzes project options

Formation of the Alliance comes at a time when federal and state education policymakers are putting greater emphasis on career readiness. To support that aim, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory at Mathematica has established career readiness as one of seven areas of focus.  Representatives from the REL were on hand at our October kickoff to present a workshop for Alliance teams and to offer research and technical support.

Education Researcher and REL representative Becky Smerdon said Pennsylvania education policymakers are ahead of the national curve in emphasizing career readiness. Although it’s been a hot topic in education research, only

REL reps Jan Anderson (left) and Becky Smerdon  

a couple of states are giving it such a high priority in response to the federal Every Child Succeeds Act.

Smerdon said research divides the essentials of career readiness into three categories of knowledge and skills—academic content, pathway knowledge and lifelong learning skills.

The categories encompass the three critical questions at the heart of the Alliance’s work. Pathways knowledge is what kids get by asking who they want to be and how to get there. They also inevitably find when asking “how”  that they’ll need transferrable nonacademic skills to succeed over a lifetime.

“The questions help make ‘future readiness’ less abstract,” said Consortium Program Director Candice Murrell as she reviewed overall goals at the Alliance kickoff meeting.

“Future readiness is about a lot more than being able to pass this or that test,” added the Consortium’s Director of Organizational Advancement Jackie Foor. “It’s also about developing those transferrable skills students need to be successful.”

Foor and Murrell both are members of the Consortium team that organizes the Alliance.

The Alliance grew out of several exploratory discussions the Consortium organized over the past two years among secondary and post-secondary educators and regional business representatives, including the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Partnerships between these stakeholders have been gaining momentum as schools find increasing value in “real world” learning experiences, as businesses anticipate workforce shortages and as employers point to a “soft skills gap” among young hires.