“Pittsburgh is a tech hub, but there’s also a community here.”
As an electrical engineering student at Virginia Tech, Paige Kassalen completed three internships, studied French and traveled widely. Nearing graduation, many advised her to consider Silicon Valley or another well-known tech center. She resisted.
“I didn’t want to go somewhere that was already established,” she recalls. “I realized throughout college I like to be involved in the process, in the evolution of something. Not to come in when the structure is already set, but rather to help build the structure and the culture.”
For Paige, that meant Pittsburgh, and Covestro.
Pittsburgh feels increasingly like a center for technology and mobility, she says, with companies like Uber, Argo, Facebook’s Oculus VR, Google and others growing their local presence.
And Covestro (formerly Bayer MaterialScience)
, a global manufacturer of high-tech materials for automotive, aviation and other industries, is well positioned to play a role. “We are at the start of the value chain, so we can drive and influence the materials and the engineering from the beginning,” Paige says.
As a market analyst in the future of mobility, Paige works across the company business units to investigate how its coatings, adhesives and specialty materials might be used in an industry that is moving towards autonomous vehicles.
Sounds pretty good, but it would be hard to top her first year on the job. After seeing a blurb in a Covestro employee newsletter in fall 2015, Paige competed for and won a spot on a team of international engineers and technicians supporting the first round-the-world flight by a fixed-wing aircraft fueled entirely by solar power. (Covestro provided advanced materials including the plane’s silver coating, door, cockpit window and insulation.)
Paige joined the support crew of the Solar Impulse
in February 2016 in Hawaii through July, when it completed its 25,000-mile circuit in Abu Dhabi. Age 22 at the start of the project, Paige was the ground crew’s youngest member and only American, and the full team’s only female U.S. engineer.
Jobs varied, with some as analog as running to grab the wing tips to keep the aircraft, with its bicycle-like ground gear, from tipping over upon landing.
“This is an aircraft that’s as light as an SUV with the wingspan of a 747,” she recalls. “The stakes were high. If I made a mistake, it wouldn’t mean just a bad a grade; it could be the end of a worldwide mission. I had to push myself to be confident in my technical ability, to remind myself that I was qualified to be there; that even if I made a mistake, I was qualified to make it.”
While her adrenaline and work days have returned to something like normal, Paige says she continues to feel a sense of mission. She is proud of her employer’s commitment to sustainability: Covestro has pledged to reduce its company’s global emissions of carbon dioxide by 50 percent by 2025, and to cut its energy consumption in half by 2030. And she remains active – as she’s been since college – with the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers Institute, and as chair of the Pittsburgh chapter of its Women In Engineering affinity group.
Paige is settling into her own home in Chatham Village
-- an 85-year-old wooded hamlet of about 200 townhomes tucked into Mount Washington. For fun, she makes use of the region’s growing system of bike lanes and trails. She enjoys cycling along the Monongahela River, down towards Sandcastle or across the Fort Pitt Bridge to the Strip District, stopping on weekends to try new lunch places. “Café Reyna, Enrico Biscotti for its buckeyes, Sienna Mercato its rooftop or its meatballs downstairs,” she muses. “The tasting menus at Eleven….”
While Paige appreciates what’s new about Pittsburgh – its future-tech industries, its nationally renowned chefs and restaurant scene -- she also loves its old-school friendliness and sense of connectedness.“You have leading research around autonomous vehicles, and then you have these days where everyone in the city is wearing black and gold because there’s a Steelers or Pens or Pirates game,” she says. “Pittsburgh is a tech hub, but there’s also a community here.”