Monthly Archives: March 2018

Future Ready Alliance offered training in Project-Based Learning

Members of our Future Ready Alliance who wanted a better understanding of Project-Based Learning (PBL) came together in late February for a targeted training session. The session also gave participants training in classroom use of Socratic Seminars and Design Thinking.

“It was the best professional development I’ve ever attended,” said Clairton City School District teacher Kristen Sirbaugh. “It really walked you through” steps needed to incorporate PBL into classroom teaching. The session also gave insights into how  PBL can be used to help students practice soft skills, she said.

The session was one of several “target days” offered this year to districts and schools participating in the Alliance and to others interested in specific tools for helping prepare students for their futures. Earlier in the year, the Alliance offered a target day around portfolio development.

The team projects at the heart of PBL make it an instructional method teachers can use to help students practice soft skills while learning any subject. Among other things, portfolio development helps students set goals, reflect on their school experience and progress and assemble evidence to demonstrate mastery of important skills.

The Alliance brings together educators and other stakeholders to strengthen school and district resources for helping students answer three questions critical to future success—Who am I? Who do I want to be? and How do I get there?

School and district teams participating in the Alliance come together twice a year for general network sessions as well as for target days dedicated to specific topics.










Two Consortium Board members honored

Janet Sardon

Melissa Swauger   

Two Consortium Board members are being honored this year for professional accomplishments. 

Yough School District Superintendent Janet Sardon, Ed.D. has been chosen to receive the Tri-State Area School Study Council’s Distinguished Female Educator award April 4 at this year’s Dr. Jean E, Winsand Workshop for Women in Educational Leadership.

Melissa Swauger, PhD, is being recognized with the 2018 Jane Leonard Award for the Advancement of Women. Dr. Swauger is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.




Consortium adds new Board member

Joseph C. Castagnola

Joseph C. Castagnola, President of McKeesport-based Generation Stoneworks , joined the Consortium’s Board in March. Before becoming its president, he began working at the company his father founded under the name Prada in 2004, learning all aspects of the business  before taking the helm in 2016. Begun in 1988, the family-run business provides custom-designed and fabricated architectural stone to residential and commercial builders.

Since assuming leadership of the company, Castagnola has rebranded it as Generation Stoneworks, expanded its customer network, introduced new technologies and created partnerships with the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, CareerLinks, Central Westmoreland Career & Technology Center, Pittsburgh Technical College and Auberle’s workforce development program.

A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Castagnola holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering. Active in professional and trade organizations, he serves on the boards of the Indiana Limestone Institute of America and the Occupational Advisory Committee for Engineering Technologies at McKeesport High School. He also served previously and as a member of the Elizabeth Township Business & Economic Development Committee.

Castagnola also plays an active role in his community. He has volunteered with the Embark Mentoring program operated by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and as a religious education teacher in the South Side’s Prince of Peace parish.

As a member of the Consortium’s Board, he said he looks forward to helping connect students to businesses and opportunities in their communities and learning more about programs we offer to help prepare students for post-secondary education and careers, including the Future Ready Alliance and Leadership and our Leadership in Career & Technical Education program, among others.

CCK helps Brashear and Perry students check out trade apprenticeships

A junior at Pittsburgh Brashear High School, Dashawn has thought for a while he’d take up carpentry when he graduates, but he didn’t know there was a local apprenticeship training center where he could learn the craft.

Before he visited the Carpenters Training Center run by the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, he said he thought he’d just try to find a job where he could learn. Now, he’s thinking about putting in an application for an apprenticeship.

Dashawn was among students from Pittsburgh Brashear and Perry Traditional Academy who  explored both the Carpenters Training Center and the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Center run by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 5 as part of the Consortium’s College & Career Knowledge (CCK) program.

As part of the visits in March, representatives of both trades filled students in on the application process and the requirements and benefits of their training programs. Key among the benefits is that apprenticeships in carpentry, electrical work and 15 other building trades programs that operate training centers in the region all enable students to earn paychecks while they’re learning.

Like lots of students attracted to  the trades, Dashawn said “I’d like to work outdoors and do something with my hands.”

While carpentry still remains a top choice for realizing those goals, however, he said the CCK explorations helped him see additional options that he’ll probably explore as well.


Students help Covestro forecast features of autonomous vehicles 

Company managers and engineers recently had a chance to learn how today’s students would steer product development for tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles if they were in the driver’s seat at Covestro.

Kids from a South Fayette High School science class gave recommendations on automotive features their generation would find desirable during a March 9th presentation on a project they undertook for the company during their spring semester. Among other things, they found their contemporaries wanted—and would pay extra for—the comfort of leather-like seating and the convenience of full-service WiFi. Their findings came from a combination of surveys and other research.

The Consortium’s Student Powered Solutions (SPS) program, which pairs companies and classrooms for Project-Based Learning (PBL) experiences, facilitated the work. SPS connected the students with Covestro’s Future of Mobility team, whose members are themselves trying to forecast passenger preferences in order to gain insight into how Covestro materials can help drive automotive innovation forward. Covestro makes advanced polymers used for a wide range of automotive applications—from car seats and bumper components to soundproofing and paint.

PBL gives students a chance to apply learning to real-world problems while practicing the soft skills needed to work in teams. Companies willing to work with them get the benefit of outside perspectives and sometimes even actionable new ideas.

Students said the Covestro project was a great learning experience and a bit of an eye-opener. Kenny said it gave him an important lesson about leadership. “You learn how to collaborate and not to be overbearing,” he said.

For Cassie, the project underscored that in the world beyond the classroom. “There aren’t necessarily any guidelines. You’re just thrown into it to find an answer,” she said. “In school we’re told exactly what we have to do and we do exactly what we’re told.”

Although many of the students’ findings were in line with Covestro’s own research, one manager was curious and pleased to learn that customers in the targeted age group reported a willingness to pay more for luxury features.

Students from four CTCs learn leadership skills at Parkway West

At the third of four sessions scheduled for this school year, participants in our program for Leadership in Career  & Technical Education gathered at Parkway West Career & Technology Center (CTC) to learn skills they’ll need to advance in their careers.

In addition to students from the host school, attendees came from A.W. Beattie Career Center, Forbes Road Career & Technology Center and Steel Center for Career & Technical Education. 

For much of the morning session, students undertook team-building exercises designed to practice leadership skills and used them as a stepping stone to discussions about the qualities that leaders need. At the prompting of Program Director Jennifer Sethman, they came up with many. One student broke the ice offering that leadership means “you have to step up.”  Others chimed in with dozens of characteristics—from quick thinking and communication to adaptability, open-mindedness, resourcefulness and creativity.

One lesson that pervades the work in LCTE is that “Leadership doesn’t always mean being the person in charge,” said Sethman. “Everyone on a team can lead from his or her strengths.”

Students said they find the exercises teach them something about themselves, among other things. Tyler, a West Mifflin junior studying computer and information technology at Steel Center, said “I definitely find value in them.”

He said he also finds the LCTE sessions give him a chance to network, learn about other CTC programs and find out about opportunities like apprenticeships that might interest him after he graduates.







Consortium expresses thanks for grant from AEO Foundation

American Eagle Outfitters Foundation is again helping support The Future Is Mine (TFIM) and its annual Student Leadership Conference.

“We very grateful for companies like American Eagle and the philanthropies they create to help kids and others in our community,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “As a youth-oriented organization and one puts a high premium on social responsibility, American Eagle makes a terrific partner for supporting the kinds of opportunities TFIM creates for students to explore careers, imagine their futures and plan their next steps after high school.”