About Steve Bodnar

Steve Bodnar Steve Bodnar is an environmental policy analyst at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. He focuses on meaningful and appropriate improvements to the Pittsburgh region’s environmental conditions.
Steve Bodnar

I had the opportunity over the past nine months to participate in the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI), a program of Leadership Pittsburgh. Our class was asked to design and organize a PopUp! event – a temporary, low-cost initiative that has the ability to surprise, provoke and entertain in ways that change perceptions about the places where they occur. Ours was in the Mt. Washington neighborhood.


Early in the process, three core goals of the May 11 event were agreed upon: to introduce the city’s new Emerald View Park System; to engage Mt. Washington residents – particularly families – in the event; and to highlight the area’s vibrant business district. A consensus was reached to hold a 5K race and community day featuring a Wizard of Oz theme. I can’t say I entirely understand where the theme idea originated from, but it came to be, nonetheless.

Despite the less than perfect weather – actually, despite the terrible weather – the event was well received, well attended and the 5K course received glowing reviews for balancing some challenging stretches with flat sections. Quite a few runners expressed genuine surprise for how much the area’s roads had to offer for a race and for training runs.

An event like this doesn’t come together without the help of many individuals, groups and sponsors, far too many to list here, but the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation and the business community deserve special recognition for embracing the project; it could not have been successful without their support. And, of course, Aradhna Malhotra Oliphant, Kristen Freiss with Leadership Pittsburgh for making the experience possible and pushing for it to be meaningful.

Leadership Pittsburgh is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to developing a diverse group of leaders to serve southwestern Pennsylvania, impact the community and act as catalysts for positive change in our region. It is now accepting applicants for the 2013-2014 Leadership Development Initiative class here.

Steve Bodnar

THE RESULTS ARE IN! Check out the winners of Intel ISEF here.

I had the privilege, and I sincerely mean it was a privilege, to be a judge in the Environmental Science category at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) this week in Pittsburgh.

The schedules were grueling, discussions in the judge’s quarters were often…let’s just call them passionate, and the task of deciding which one of two equally deserving projects was, in fact, superior, was almost as difficult as saying tris(2,2’-bipyridyl)ruthenium(II) dichloride before your morning coffee.

But, now after the rankings have been finalized and the last long-winded professor has rested his case (and exhausted everyone’s patience), there is no doubt how creative, how engaging, how dedicated and how inspiring these young men and women are. I overheard on more than one occasion that faith in future generations has been restored. At least somewhat.

Judging guidelines were typical of what you would expect at a science fair: creativity, methodology, clarity, etc. But, what stands out is the real-world applicability the projects have. These students are not counting drosophila flies, dissecting frogs or making baking soda volcanoes. They are helping to solve some of today’s most pressing and complex environmental issues such as land reclamation, waste pharmaceuticals in our waterways, advancing the use of bacteria as a catalyst for oil degradation and employing nanotechnology to develop astoundingly sensitive air monitors. Some projects would not be out of place in a university’s graduate program laboratory.

Not to be outdone by the diversity of the projects, the diversity of the students was striking. It’s uplifting to see four students standing together, all with different skin colors, all dressed differently (although the young men’s suits were universally two sizes too large), all with different customs talking and laughing as if they’ve been friends for years.

I read in the media that today’s young women aren’t interested in science. I don’t know the exact ratio of female to male finalists, but a quick glance around the project hall only strengthens my belief in the adage that you can’t always believe what you read. At that impressionable age the interest is there —  it’s time to focus our efforts on sustaining it through college and beyond.

A theme often repeated throughout the day of interviews was, “Reward the best, encourage the rest.” While most of the students at the fair won’t win an award or receive a scholarship offer, it’s important to note they are previous winners of regional and state level competitions. The best of the best. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to interact with them.