Monthly Archives: January 2018

Highmark renews support

Highmark has again renewed its support for our career exploration program for high school students, The Future Is Mine  (TFIM), and as well as its sponsorship of our annual Champions of Learning Awards, which recognize individuals, organizations, and businesses that support or create outstanding learning opportunities for students across the region.

“Highmark is a great corporate citizen, ” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “We are not just grateful for their ongoing support, we’re very proud to have it. They are a company that’s truly interested in the health of our region and their investments reflect that.”


Four SPS teams to tackle two real-world challenges

Student Powered Solutions teams from four schools got projects underway in January with visits to the employers that have posed challenges for their analysis and recommendations.

A student dons the mask that the ETC uses in virtual reality demos

Teams from Mt. Pleasant and South Allegheny high schools will be working with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) to come up with ways of improving a mask that the ETC uses in Virtual Reality demonstrations.

Students from South Fayette and Pittsburgh Perry high schools will be working with Covestro, a maker of high-tech polymers, to brainstorm features that passengers are likely to want in driverless cars as automakers bring more of them to market in the next decade.

The ETC project is aimed at devising alterations that would make the Virtual Reality mask easier to sanitize between uses. Students at the ETC use the mask in Virtual Reality projects and the ETC’s Educational Network Coordinate John Balash uses it in work with students in schools around the region. To prevent it from building up germs and skin oils, users currently use a combination of disposable tissue-paper shields and alcohol wipes to keep it clean. SPS teams will investigate alternative sanitizing practices as well as mask modifications.

For teams working with Covestro, the mission is to brainstorm ideas for equipping driverless cars with creature-comforts because most of those in use today—from technology to seating, soundproofing and safety features—require the kinds of polymers Covestro develops and makes.

SPS teams from Charleroi and Bentworth bring actionable ideas to DMI

Students who participated in our Student Powered Solutions project with DMI Companies not only came up with actionable ideas, they came away realizing they’d gained valuable skills.

Teams from Bentworth and Charleroi Area high schools approached a problem DMI posed from different angles. Bentworth came up with recommendations for reducing a troublesome waste product for the company while Charleroi offered ideas for recycling it.

They presented their findings in January to educators from both schools, SPS staffers and representatives from DMI’s technical staff.

The challenge DMI gave the teams was finding better ways to reduce or dispose of expanded polyurethane foam that overspills their production line as polyurethane sealing rings are mechanically applied to the ends of the HVAC duct tubes the company produces. Currently, DMI trucks the bulky material to a waste-to-energy plant, but it’s costly to do so.

Among ideas that intrigued and impressed DMI’s technical staff were Bentworth’s recommendation to cool the reactants used to make the polyurethane before they go into the manufacturing process where they’re combined as they’re applied. Cooling the reactants appeared to slow polyurethane production, therefore reducing overspill.

Sustainability Manager Lisa Pavan also was enthused about some recycling possibilities such as shredding the foam to make packing materials for commercial shippers.

Although the possibility had occurred to her, she’d originally dismissed it, thinking the material still would likely end up in landfills after shipping boxes were unpacked.  DMI is committed to being an environmentally conscious company and strives to find creative solutions to reduce and/or repurpose its waste material.

But Jordan,  a young woman on Charleroi’s team,  suggested that DMI seek a shipping partner willing to provide package recipients with pre-paid labels for sending the material to the waste-to-energy facility where DMI sends it.

“It would be so easy, I’m just amazed that I didn’t think of it,” said Pavan.

Pavan also liked a stadium seat cushion that the kids fabricated with Charleroi’s logo and filled with the foam. DMI could use cushions with its own logo as promotional item, she said, or provide the foam to companies that make stadium cushions.

Another idea that she said bears further research is using shredded foam as playground mulch. A Charleroi team member has agreed to test the material outdoors to see how well it holds up to the elements.

Students on both teams said the projects forced them to focus on soft skills like communication. Building soft skills is an SPS priority because employers complain that young hires often haven’t adequately developed them.

“We definitely needed communication,” said Colton, a Charleroi team member. Among other reasons, he said the project required team members not only to exchange information with each other, but also talk to adults in and outside their school. In researching ideas, they reached out to companies that could provide supplies DMI might need to execute them.

At Bentworth, Chris said his team’s collaboration necessitated the use of email, joking that the Snapchat, a medium that seems to have supplanted email among teens, probably wouldn’t be suited to exchanges of logs and other project communications. The email exchanges made it more “like it would be in the business world,” Chris said.

Jordan said they found Project-Based Learning very different than most classroom assignments because “there are no wrong answers” and there are no pre-established rules for finding ideas that may work.

Said one another student: “It’s really different from a normal classroom experience where the teacher structures the assignment…You’re kind of on your own and you have to figure things out.”


Finalists announced for Champions of Learning Awards

Fifteen finalists in five categories have been chosen as part of the selection process for the Consortium of Public of Education’s 2018 Champions of Learning Awards.

Nominations began in September and concluded in November. More than 60 candidates were submitted from across the region—all individuals, organizations and businesses that create or support outstanding learning opportunities for students in Western Pennsylvania.

Five winners will be announced Saturday, April 7 during the awards celebration at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, where the Consortium also will present a Special Tribute to Sarah Tambucci, Executive Director of the Arts Education Collaborative for her contributions to the field of education over a career spanning 50 years. Reservations can be made now using our online reservation form.

For the second consecutive year, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania will share in the event, naming winners of the Be There Awards given to recognize people who “go above and beyond” to support our region’s youth.

“We’re honoring our finalists for work that too often goes unnoticed or uncelebrated,” said Consortium Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “These individuals, organizations and businesses bring creativity and passion to providing the kinds of learning experiences that not only help kids succeed in school but inspire them toward lifetimes of learning.”

“We are delighted that United Way will once again partner in this celebration. They have the same commitment to helping kids as the Consortium and their Be There awards honor people with the same passion as our Champions.”

Huntington National Bank renews support

Huntington supports programs to help kids prepare for the future Huntington National Bank has renewed its support for the Consortium with a $10,000 contribution targeted at programming to help students explore and prepare for careers. “We’re grateful for the contribution and gratified that companies like Huntington not only see the importance of helping kids prepare for …
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SPS teams make recommendations to Uniontown theater

Student teams from Albert Gallatin and Laurel Highlands high schools presented recommendations in late December to help bring more business to Uniontown’s State Theatre Center for the Arts.

As part of a Project-Based Learning (PBL) assignment with our Student Powered Solutions Program, the teams were charged with giving the theater’s management some ideas that would interest more young people in attending performances, or help reach them more successfully.

Among other things, Laurel Highlands team suggested that the theater reach out to youth through different advertising channels, including more social media, and special events around kids’ movies.

Taking aim at the same problem, students from Albert Gallatin High School made suggestions for greater engagement with youth, including working with juniors and seniors to create resume-building community service projects.

Kids learn a lot from team projects, including skills they likely didn’t think would be part of the work. Adaptability becomes important, as do communication and other soft skills that aren’t formally taught, but are a critical part of “career readiness.”

That wasn’t lost on the young man from Albert Gallatin featured in the video below. He said he thought that lessons learned from collaborating with classmates were among the most valuable take-aways from PBL.




Consortium receives grant from Duquesne Light

Duquesne Light Co. has awarded the Consortium a $30,000 community grant to support programming that helps students explore and prepare for careers. 

“We’re grateful for companies like Duquesne Light that recognize the importance of helping kids imagine their futures,” said Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “The better we support today’s students in finding out who they are, who they want to become and how to get there, the stronger tomorrow’s workforce will be.”

“Duquesne Light has been an exemplary corporate citizen and partner,” Ms. Babyak added. “Not only has it supported our programming financially, it has often opened its doors to host students participating in our programs.”