“Putting the Pieces Together” at TFIM Student Leadership Conference

Businesses and organizations hosting explorations this year during our annual Student Leadership Conference for The Future Is Mine (TFIM) will give kids opportunities to look at careers in fields ranging from healthcare and government to financial services and video game design.

These students explored careers in theater and the arts while visiting the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust 

“We’ll have 16 different employers opening their doors,” said Program Director Gina Barrett “We always try to cover a broad range of interests and our site hosts always do a great job showing students the range of careers within their particular industries and companies.”

The two-day Conference, which takes place April 19-20, will bring teams of students and advisors from 30 high schools to Downtown Pittsburgh. More than 400 are expected to attend. The theme students identified for this year’s event is “Putting the Pieces Together.” Lots of them will be doing just that as they visit workplaces and attend a college fair at the Heinz History Center on the first day.

Following the college fair, kids convene for dinner, a dance and an overnight stay at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center. The following day, they’ll rotate through a dozen career-related workshops.

Employers hosting workplace visits include:  Allegheny General Hospital; ALCOSAN;  Allegheny County; Carnegie Museum of Art; iHeartMedia; Google; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; Heinz History Center; Huntington National Bank; Jefferson Regional Medical Center; Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Schell Games; Steeltown Entertainment; UPMC; Urban Design Associates; United Way of Southwestern PA;  and Waterways Association of Pittsburgh with Gateway Clipper Fleet.

Along with the site hosts, sponsors for the Conference so far include: Dollar Bank; Duquesne Light; Highmark; HM Insurance Group; Huntington National Bank; NextTier; Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation; Range Resources; Scottdale Bank and UPMC.

Post-secondary schools so far signed up for the college fair are: Community College of Allegheny County; Indiana University of Pennsylvania; LaRoche College; Penn State Greater Allegheny; Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics; Pitt Greensburg; Pittsburgh Technical College and Robert Morris University



South Allegheny event features business breakouts

Some 21 businesses hosted workshops as part of a professional learning session that South Allegheny School District organized on Connecting Classrooms to Careers. Interest in the event proved strong, with roughly 130 educators attending, including a fifth from other districts.

Educators get briefing on region’s emerging industries

Organizers could sense they’d tapped into a vein.  “We had businesses still asking to participate after the commitment deadline had passed,” said Acting Superintendent Alisa King. “Obviously, there’s interest and need on both sides.”

King said the level of interest might prompt other districts to attempt similar events. South Allegheny’s event came through collaboration between a team participating in the Consortium’s Future Ready Alliance and educators working on the district’s 339 plan.With little exposure to work settings and practices outside of school, educators need to connect with businesses to help students prepare for careers or help their schools comply with Pennsylvania’s plan under ESSA (the federal Every Child Succeeds Act.)  At the same time, businesses facing looming workforce shortages as well as misalignment between available jobs and applicants, increasingly see the need to reach out to schools.

On hand to brief attendees on the region’s growing industries and the outlook for different kinds of jobs were Bill Flanagan, Chief Communications Officer for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Linda Topoleski, the Conference’s Vice President for Workforce Programs.

Flanagan said students can look forward to jobs in a number of fast-growing industries for which Pittsburgh has become the world research hub, including robotics, autonomous vehicles and additive manufacturing. He also said demand for skilled tradespeople also is booming with billions of construction projects on the horizon, including the Shell Oil’s ethane cracker plant in Beaver County.

Topoleski said the jobs may seem disparate in all ways, but all of the fields have something in common—a need for soft skills, particularly communications.

She said one of the best ways schools can help kids develop those skills is by involving them in Project-Based Learning.


SPS launches string of projects

With a string of new projects underway, our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) program already has connected four community partners with nine schools to undertake Project-Based Learning (PBL) experiences this semester and plans to launch another project involving two schools in March.

A student tries out a Virtual Reality mask at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center

All of the projects will conclude with formal presentations before the end of the school year, But even in the earliest stages, teachers can see positive effects from PBL. At a kickoff session where Woodland Hills High School students had a chance to ask questions before they began their project, for example, Business teacher Doreen Tabb marveled at the level of engagement. “Some of the kids who are talking the most hardly ever raise their hands in class,” she said.

“It’s always interesting to see the ideas these kids can offer,” said Program Director Aaron Altemus. “But it’s really gratifying to see the degree of personal growth they achieve. By the end of their projects, most of these students tell you without prompting that some of their biggest takeaways are better soft skills, especially communication.”

The most recent SPS launch brought Penn Hills High School students to work with Covestro on an assignment begun earlier with Pittsburgh Perry and South Fayette school districts. Kids at all three schools will be presenting ideas about what features passengers will want a decade from now in autonomous vehicles as they play a greater role in public transit.

At the same time:

  • Teams from McKeesport and Woodland Hills school districts are developing ideas to build visibility and attendance for Remake Learning Days
  • Students from Mt. Pleasant and South Allegheny school districts are working with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center on making a Virtual Reality mask easier to sanitize between uses
  • Teams from Blackhawk and Mohawk school districts are working with First Energy to address questions involving nuclear power.

Our final SPS project for the year gets underway in March. It pairs 412-Food Rescue with students from Franklin Regional and Quaker Valley school districts to work on finding ways to reduce food waste in their school cafeterias

UPMC provides sponsorships for TFIM and Champions

UPMC Health System has again become a sponsor for the annual Student Leadership Conference we host for participants in our career exploration program, The Future Is Mine  (TFIM), and for our annual Champions of Learning Awardswhich recognize individuals, organizations, and businesses that support or create outstanding learning opportunities for students across the region.

“We’re very grateful for the renewed commitment,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “UPMC is a sponsor we are delighted and proud to have. It has also been a valued partner, helping us acquaint students with the many career opportunities the health sciences offer.”

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 …
Continue reading Huntington National Bank renews support »

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.