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.”

Clairton City and Laurel Highlands teams present projects at Mellon Institute

Clairton City’s team presents findings

For James, a Laurel Highlands High School student, working on a project with scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s interdisciplinary neuroscience venture, BrainHub, was a chance to apply learning and bring life to statistics courses that can otherwise seem dry.

For Salina, a student from Clairton City High School, working on a similar project represented a chance not just to apply learning, but to do it with a team of peers.

“I learned so much from them,” she said as her team and the one from Laurel Highlands debriefed after presenting findings from their work at Mellon Institute in December.

Through a collaboration between CMU’s BrainHub and the Consortium, both teams worked over the fall semester to analyze data coming from experiments that BrainHub scientist Alison Barth, Ph.D. and her research team are conducting.

Dr. Barth’s experiments with mice are aimed at finding out whether and how learning changes the brain. For the students, however, “The projects were about how to look at data and how to use it,” she said as she introduced the teams for their final presentations. The Brainhub scientists work with high school students as part of a community outreach initiative called Brainstorm.

In a nutshell, the kids from Clairton determined from data that mice seem to develop more neural capacity after training. The Laurel Highlands team found that mice learn to make associations between external cues and rewards, much like Pavlov found that dogs could be conditioned to associate the sound of a bell with food.

The kids, however, gained understanding far beyond raw results. For example, during question and answer sessions after their presentations, a number of the youngsters said it became apparent to them how conclusions can be limited by “sample size.” Most also pointed to soft skills developed from working on teams.

Laurel Highlands students give presentation

Additionally, all came to grasp a fundamental principle of scientific research—that even when experiments prove hypotheses wrong, they still produce important learning.

Perhaps because we live in a results-driven world, the tenet was initially a little disconcerting.  “It surprised me that it doesn’t matter what you find,” said Jayla, one of the Clairton team members.

It came not just as a surprise, but a bit of a relief to kids who must usually focus on getting good grades and the right answers to test questions.

The fact that the projects weren’t graded, however, didn’t make the students feel any less invested.

“If anything, we worked harder,” said Jayla. “We knew this had to be presentable.”










Enliven your classroom and engage your students with Alice!

Let us introduce you to Alice!

Alice is a free teaching tool we’d like to share with you at a one-day, no-cost, Act 48-eligible training session in February in collaboration with The Alice Project at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center.

Alice can be used to engage students in any subject.

  • In English, it brings a whole new dimension to writing and storytelling
  • Using Alice, students can make great scenes from History come alive.
  • It’s a natural for Math because Alice can be used to teach concepts as simple as fractions or as complex as algorithms.

Alice is a visual programming language that helps students (and teachers) unfamiliar with computer science pick up the basic concepts of coding by designing animated stories and games with blocks of pre-written code.

It’s a great introduction to computer science for kids who haven’t in the past been oriented to the field — students from low-income households, minorities, girls and others.

You can learn how to use Alice and earn Act 48 credit by attending a one-day class taught by CMU professors:

Thursday, February 1

8:30 am to 3:30 pm (Lunch is included)

At the Consortium’s office

1100 Industry Rd., McKeesport, PA

We are keeping the class size very small—fewer than 20 educators will be able to attend—so reserve your place and register online now.

We want to make sure all participants leave with enough understanding of Alice to start engaging students immediately with this powerful tool.

Our registration form also provides information needed to help your kids enter the Alice Challenge, a region-wide contest for middle and high school students.

LCTE session focuses on collaboration

After an October mini-course on professional communication, students from Allegheny County’s four career and technology centers (CTCs) came together in December to focus on collaboration as part of the Consortium’s Leadership in Career & Technical Education (LCTE) program. 

LCTE is designed to help CTC students enrolled in vocational programs ranging from auto mechanics to culinary arts build leadership skills so that they’re prepared to take on leadership or supervisory roles in their chosen fields.

Four CTCs participate in the program—A.W. Beattie, Forbes Road, Parkway West and Steel Center. LCTE offers their students four joint-sessions during the school year, each a mini-course on an important leadership skill such as communication or collaboration. Between sessions, students practice the skills in their home schools as part of the day-to-day curriculum.

The joint sessions also offer other supports for developing leadership. For example, during the December mini-course, the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania engaged the students in discussions about identifying possible mentors and how mentors can serve as sounding boards and advisors. Along with the Consortium and the CTCs, the Mentoring Partnership and Leadership Pittsburgh are partners in offering LCTE.


Additionally, the joint sessions offer activities designed to help students practice the soft skills involved in leadership and opportunities for networking with peers from other CTCs and professionals on hand to support LCTE.












TFIM team leaders report on projects

Team leaders from high schools participating in The Future Is Mine (TFIM0 convened at the Consortium in early December for a mid-year debriefing on their projects and to begin planning TFIM’s annual Student Leadership Conference.

Students and advisors attending the meeting also heard presentations on opportunities for free post-secondary education programs that could offer career avenues to kids not planning to go to college.

TFIM is a career exploration and leadership development program. Team projects are an integral part of it because they help students develop soft skills that are critical in the workplace—from organization and planning to communications and critical thinking. Part of the December meeting was spent on project planning.

Typically, the projects are career-related—aimed either at exploring different career paths or raising awareness about career options among peers.

A small sampling of projects being planned this year are:

  • A career day for middle school students in Ringgold School District
  • An awareness campaign at Steel Valley High School, where the TFIM team is putting bar-coded flyers in the halls to connect peers to videos alumni are making to describe their career paths.
  • A business etiquette luncheon at Greensburg Salem High School with a program focused on two questions: Who am I? and What does success look like for me?

Following project report-outs, team leaders discussed possible themes for TFIM’s annual two-day Student Leadership Conference in April and began thinking about break-out sessions. The April event always boasts a dozen breakouts as well as workplace visits with 16 employers. Companies and other organizations open their doors for the Conference each year, giving kids opportunities to see how different jobs are done and talk to the people who do them.

Additionally. Patrick Bendel,  Special Projects Coordinator for New Century Careers and Pat Gambridge from Bidwell Training Center gave presentations on career-training opportunities for kids looking to enter the workforce without degrees.

Through New Century, a nonprofit specializing in workforce development for the manufacturing industry, Bendel said high school graduates can train for machining or other skilled manufacturing jobs.

At Bidwell, an accredited nonprofit career and technical school, students can earn an associate’s degree to become a lab technician or diplomas in culinary arts, horticulture or healthcare occupations including pharmacy technician, medical assistant and medical claims processing or coding.






Educators get mini-course in human centered design

The Consortium partnered with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in November to provide a professional development opportunity for educators in our Future Ready Alliance. In addition to touring the ETC’s playful work settings–most adorned with movie posters and likenesses of movie and game characters—participants heard presentations on human centered design, design thinking and “play testing.”

Students at the ETC use design thinking as they collaborate with peers who have different specialties—from coding and graphic arts to storytelling—to create video games and other entertainment technologies. It’s used because it models the team collaboration prevalent in their industry and others.

“Play testing” enables the young developers to see how people respond to their games as they play them.

Educators participating in the professional development workshop were asked to “play test” several variations of Uno, a popular card game. Only after playing did they find out how the game had been modified for each group.

The session got rave reviews, with one art instructor calling it “the best professional development I ever had.”


CCK helps kids explore trade and apprenticeship opportunities

Our College & Career Knowledge (CCK) program had a hectic fall, helping kids explore post-secondary education options at the Pittsburgh Aeronautics Institute (PA) and several apprenticeship training centers.

All of the visits were designed to give students who either have ruled college out or remain undecided a chance to look at alternatives that create paths to employment opportunities with family-sustaining incomes.

CCK also organizes campus immersion experiences for students who are identified as being candidates to earn two or four-year degrees, but weren’t necessarily planning to do so.

At PAI, students learned about both degree and certificate programs in aviation technology and/or maintenance.

Trade apprenticeship programs that opened their doors included Boilermakers Local 154, Ironworkers Local 3, the Steamfitters Technology Center in Harmony, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 12 training facility in Harmarville.

High schools that participated in one or more of the explorations included Belle Vernon, Pittsburgh Allderdice, Southmoreland and Yough.

Before visiting the Boilermakers and Sheet Metal Workers training centers in November, a young woman from Pittsburgh Allderdice told one of her teachers she didn’t know anything about the trades. But by the time she left, she was convinced that she might just have found a career path.

“Hearing this is what makes these trips so worthwhile,” said Nikki Schmidlein, the teacher who accompanied the Allderdice students on visits organized in partnership with Sheet Metal Workers and Boilermakers.

“In a society where going to college is made to be so important, it is crucial to understand that not all students will go to college,” Schmidlein added. “These visits open our students’ eyes to the different possibilities around them.”

One reason many kids find apprenticeships attractive is that the programs are free and pay wages for on-the-job training.



Wyldwood Stories: We have liftoff!

More than 100 guests joined us for the Nov. 20th launch of Wyldwood Stories: BB Speaks Up, the first in the series of free video games we’re developing in partnership with Simcoach Games to help kids learn soft skills.

“It was a wonderful turnout and we couldn’t be happier with the community response,” said Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “It’s tremendously important for us to give kids opportunities and practice to build soft skills and everyone who who attended the launch understands that.”

Attendees represented the spectrum of education stakeholders, including teachers and administrators from K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions, employers from business and industry, intermediate units, trade unions, community organizations and government.

Students were our stars at the launch. Kids from Clairton and South Allegheny school districts demonstrated BB Speaks Up and another game called Future Road Builders that the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania (CAWP) launched to help kids explore careers in highway construction.

CAWP and Simcoach Games, our partner in creating the Wyldwood series, co-hosted the event with us.

Students said they loved BB Speaks Up, not just because they like games, but also because the story presents situations they might really encounter in school. As the story progresses, players make choices about what characters should say or do in different situations. As they play more rounds, they see how their choices affect the outcomes and their social standing. One 7th grader beamed that it took him only a couple to climb from a four to a seven.

BB Speaks Up is designed to teach the interpersonal and intra-personal skills needed for advocacy, including communications and problem solving. Research shows these social and emotional skills are as important to future success as academic proficiency and surveys suggest employers place them on par with technical competencies.

Educators in attendance said video games can be a powerful tool for teaching them. “They get immediate feedback,” said one. “There’s lots of motivation built in.”

Teachers saw the game as a great springboard for activities—from writing to role-playing—to help kids further explore and reinforce the skills.

For kids who want to play the game  or adults who want to use it with kids, BB Speaks Up can be downloaded from iTunes and the Google Play Store. Those who want to play online will find the game under the Resources tab on our website.




CCK’s apprenticeship training center explorations open possible post-secondary paths

Before visiting two trade apprenticeship training centers in November, a young woman from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School told one of her teachers she didn’t know anything about the trades. But by the time she left, she was convinced that she might just have found a career path.

“Hearing this is what makes these trips so worthwhile,” said Nikki Schmidlein, the teacher who accompanied the Allderdice students on visits that our College & Career Knowledge (CCK) program organized in partnership with Sheet Metal Workers Local 12 in Harmarville and Boilermakers Local 154 in Pittsburgh.

“In a society where going to college is made to be so important, it is crucial to understand that not all students will go to college,” Schmidlein added. “These visits open our students’ eyes to the different possibilities around them.”

Hosts told students that they needn’t take out loans for apprenticeship training. The programs cost nothing and pay apprentice-level wages, which increase throughout training. Most programs take five years and some offer college credits or the chance to earn associate’s degrees. All lead to middle and upper-middle income jobs.

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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