STEM education is not just for city kids anymore.

A permanent workshop, known as a “Fab Lab,” will be located in Grindstone, Fayette County, while a second, mobile Fab Lab will travel to other rural school districts in area governed by regional education agency Intermediate Unit 1 (IU1). The labs will provide high-tech equipment and teacher resources that are not often available in rural parts of these counties.

“At Chevron, we understand STEM education is important to a successful future for our local communities. We are working with our partners to provide access to state-of-the-art education and technology resources to equip students with the critical skills needed to fill the jobs of tomorrow, particularly for those with limited access to the tools necessary for success in these fields,” said Nigel Hearne, vice president of Chevron Appalachia Michigan Business Unit based in the Pittsburgh area.

The IU1 Community Fab Lab will provide access to resources for the students in the K-12 system, undergraduate students and the community at-large, including skilled staff and volunteers, design and fabrication equipment and access to an international Fab Lab network. It will ultimately touch an estimated 56,000 people. Founded in 2009 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Fab Foundation brings digital fabrication tools and processes to people of all ages, developing educational and offering professional development training programs for teachers.

The hands-on learning that will be available at IU1 Fab Lab aims to spark interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and prepare individuals for the nearly 1 million U.S. jobs that will require basic STEM literacy over the next five years – including more than 2,000 energy and manufacturing jobs southwestern Pennsylvania.

“This Fab Lab is a tremendous resource for teachers and students throughout southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Fayette County Commissioner Al Ambrosini. “It will help get our kids excited about science and give them the technical skills they will need in their careers. I commend Chevron for its commitment to our community and to educating our children.”

The IU1 Community Fab Lab will feature such state-of-the-art design and fabrication equipment as laser cutters, 3D printers, vinyl cutters and milling machines. The Fab Lab will promote innovation and design in the community and will build the local workforce capacity.

This digital fabrication workshop is made possible through a $1.2 million contribution by Chevron. It is part of the company’s $10 million commitment to the Fab Foundation to build Fab Labs in areas where it operates in the United States. This Fab Lab is a component of the Appalachia Partnership Initiative, a collaborative effort formed by Chevron to develop a highly-skilled regional workforce.

“Intermediate Unit 1 is proud to be one of the few organizations selected from around the world to receive both a mobile and a stationary community Fab Lab,” said Charles F. Mahoney, Intermediate Unit 1 executive director.

“We will continue to be an innovative educational keystone transforming education and learning for the countless students, educators and community members we serve.”

Ben Kamber

The Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a public-private partnership designed to facilitate a broad community discussion about the future of transportation in the region, was launched on Sept. 30  to improve connectivity across the 10-county region, and in doing so, to improve competitiveness, economic vitality and quality of life throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Our region has a unique opportunity to approach our transportation future in a new and dynamic way,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the organization that is providing staff support to the RTA. “Act 89, the state transportation funding package passed in 2013, stabilized our transportation infrastructure maintenance situation. Now it’s time to look toward the future to imagine what is needed to create a better functioning, interconnected multimodal transportation network that benefits the entire region.”

The RTA will be led by a 22-person steering committee that includes a public and private sector representative from each of the 10-counties and the City of Pittsburgh.

The first activity of the RTA will be an “Imagine Transportation” crowdsourcing initiative to identify transportation priorities through community feedback. Through the end of the year, more than 700 regional stakeholder groups – from small nonprofits to large employers, from environmental groups to social service agencies – will be asked to identify their most critical transportation problems and their ideas to address them. These priorities could be as small as “complete the two-mile bike path that’s supposed to run along the riverfront in my downtown” or as big as “build light rail to connect all 10 county-seat communities in the region.”

The RTA steering committee will then review these community responses to develop a picture for what the future of transportation in the region could look like. In its recently approved Long- Range Transportation Plan, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission called for an “ongoing regional discussion” if the region wants to move beyond the status quo transportation system. Groups and organizations wishing to participate in the crowdsourcing exercise should follow the instructions at

“Transportation is fundamental to economic development and vibrant communities,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a member of the RTA steering committee. “As a region, it’s critical that we take a visionary approach toward determining our transportation needs. And as a truly regional effort, the RTA will help facilitate this process and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

“Traveling to Denver, Colorado last year as member of a public-private benchmarking delegation, I saw what was possible when a region had a shared sense of vision to implement transformational transportation projects,” said Brian Heery, RTA co-chair, and president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc., located in Warrendale, Pa. “Public-private partnership was critical to metro Denver’s transportation successes. And these partnerships will be just as critical as we envision how our own transportation future is defined.”

“Improving connectivity and mobility throughout southwestern Pennsylvania is a crucial issue facing our region,” said Steve Craig, RTA co-chair, and Lawrence County Commissioner. “The launch of the RTA and its crowdsourcing initiative is just the first step in a journey to redefine how the region’s transportation network functions.”

For more information, visit

RTA Steering Committee

Co-Chair: Steve Craig, Commissioner, Lawrence County

Co-Chair: Brian Heery, President & Chief Executive Officer, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc.

Tony Amadio, Commissioner (Chairman), Beaver County

Alfred Ambrosini, Commissioner, Fayette County

Philip Ameris, President & Business Manager, Laborers’ District Council of Western PA

David E. Barensfeld, President & Chief Executive Officer, The Ellwood Group, Inc.

David K. Battaglia, Commissioner (Chairman), Armstrong County

Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive, Allegheny County

Kim Geyer, Assistant to Commissioner McCarrier, Butler County

Dr. Tori Haring-Smith, President, Washington & Jefferson University

John Lewis, President & Chief Executive Officer, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital

Lawrence O. Maggi, Commissioner (Chairman), Washington County

Henry J. Maier, President & Chief Executive Officer, FedEx Ground

Jeffrey Marshall, Chief Clerk and County Administrator, Greene County

Greg McCloskey, Director of Public Works, Westmoreland County

Bill Peduto, Mayor, City of Pittsburgh

Rodney D. Ruddock, Commissioner (Chairman), Indiana County

Art Titus, Chief Operating Officer, Elliott Group

Rodney Wilson, Manager-Business Development, CONSOL Energy

Bonnie Pfister

Many of you know for its powerful job search aggregator, which pulls results from 900+ job boards into one place to highlight the career opportunities (28,319 as of today) available across the 10-county region.

But a big part of our mission is trying to help those poor souls living elsewhere to imagine themselves building lives here. What, they may wonder, are Pittsburghers like? Sure, I can find a job there, but will I find contemporaries, friends, inspiration? Turns out there are acres of cool, smart and innovative people who have chosen to make the Pittsburgh region their home, people like our Neighbors – individuals from around the world and around the corner who are making the region a better place to live, work, play and learn.

We’re proud to have Virginia Montanez among that group. You may know her as Pitt Girl — the once-anonymous blogger who sent journalists running in circles trying to uncover the source of the pointed, piquant musings on our sports teams, our politicians and our folkways. Virginia — who with her husband runs Las Velas restaurant in Market Square — outed herself, but began writing a monthly column in Pittsburgh Magazine.

A recent offering there opined, with her usual darkly funny asides, on the possibility of the Buccos’ success this season. ”You don’t choke on the word ‘pennant’ in the way you used to when it was used in such proximity to the word ‘Pirates.’

“You. Have. Hope.

“And that, my friends, is what the start of baseball season is. It is hope. It is the melting away of the harshness and brutality of winter. It is a true dawn. The clearing of gray to reveal the lush green and vivid blue. January might be the start of a new year, but it doesn’t bring hope or the feeling of ’anything can happen here in the sun.’

“Everything about baseball feels … upward. Positive. The leisurely pace of the game. The warmth. The sounds. The smells. The simplicity. The history…. ”

Check out the rest of the column here and learn more about Virginia from her Neighbor profile.

Play ball!

Bonnie Pfister

It’s not easy for working parents to carve out time to break bread with their children. Often it’s far more expedient to throw together a quick “kids meal” after work, foraging for adult food later — maybe even after the little ones have been tucked in for the night.

To counteract that impulse, Nicole Ziccarelli is sharing recipes for meals that she’s created for her family that are simple but flavorful in hopes that more families can savor mealtime together – to benefit mind and spirit as well as body. She does this through a cheerful food blog Mediterranean Baby, where she posts recipes and food tips from her experience as a working mom of three toddlers, and from her own growing-up years in the kitchen of her yaiyai (grandmother).

Learn more about Ziccarelli, her thoughts on family mealtime, its role in helping kids thrive and more at, a virtual concierge that highlights some of the great work, play and live options in the 10-county Pittsburgh region. Ziccarelli is one of the site’s Neighbors, real people who explain why the Pittsburgh region works for them. Wonder what kind of Neighbor you are – or could be? Take the “Find Yourself in Pittsburgh!” quiz, or check out the 25,146 jobs open TODAY on’s powerful career search aggregator. Sign up for updates about the region through our RRS feed, Facebook, Twitter or other social media channels. 

You can also check out Ziccarelli’s video on or below.

Meredith Fahey

There’s been lots of talk – both nationally and in the Pittsburgh region – about the skills gap. There are abundant jobs that require two years (or less) of training or a certificate or associates’ degree, but too few people in the workforce have the correct skills. In the case of jobs related to the to the Marcellus Shale natural gas play, that’s meant employers have sometimes relied on workers from such traditional markets as Texas and Oklahoma.

The good news: our region has a program that is closing that gap, a program so successful that it has been expanded to other locations. Through ShaleNET, designed in 2010 to train individuals for careers in the oil and natural gas industry, nearly 5,500 people have completed training, and more than 3,500 are employed.

Daniel Schweitzer, director of the ShaleNET hub at Stark State College in North Canton, Ohio, explains how ShaleNET is closing the skills gap in the article below. The article first appeared in the April ShaleNET newsletter. Sign up here to receive future newsletters about this innovative program.

INSIGHTS: Stark State College, North Canton, Ohio

Edwin Drake’s Well, Titusville, Pa. 1859

It has been more than three generations since the oil fields in Bremen and Titusville established Ohio and Pennsylvania as the leading oil producers in the United States. A century ago, this region was the key player in the oil and natural gas industry. A century ago, the ubiquity of skilled trades was a result of indigenous factors. They were bred by families whose livelihood was the oil and natural gas, manufacturing and transportation industries.

Why then, are so many employers hiring from outside of the region? It’s the skills gap. It’s in the news. Politicians like Ohio Senator Rob Portman are talking about it. Stark State College and ShaleNET are doing something about it.

Belying the region’s rich history in oil and natural gas, the skills gap comprises three generations of atrophy to our skilled labor force. It’s been a long time since the heyday of manufacturing in the Ohio Valley. The digital age has undervalued the vocational and skilled labor populations for some time now and there is a dearth of skilled labor at this critical juncture.

There may be only 40 active unconventional drilling rigs in Ohio’s Utica Shale, but there are hundreds of Utica wells “seasoning” as you read this. Seasoning is a euphemism for “waiting to be put into production” and midstream gathering, take-away, and processing capacities are being developed at a furious pace. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines in the forecast queue for the next decade alone. Someone has to build, monitor and maintain this infrastructure and now is the time to rebuild the economic muscle of the Ohio Valley.

The first ShaleNET grant funded short-term trainings for entry-level jobs into the oil and natural gas industry. The second ShaleNET grant, which we are 18 months into, is a capacity building grant. It was designed to ramp up higher education offerings with multiple avenues of access and outlets to skilled trade jobs with a focus on the oil and natural gas industry. The backbone of ShaleNET is the stackable credential model, which starts with a three-week non-credit class wherein the student gains IADC Rig Pass, first aid, and equipment operating certifications. This is enough for many to get industry jobs and counts as college credit if a student continues into a credit-based program such as Process Operation. From there, a student can complete a one-year certificate which is largely technically focused, and proceed to an Associate’s and then to a Bachelor’s degree. Stark State College currently offers one-year certificates and two-year degrees in four ShaleNET career pathways: Instrumentation and Electronic Technician, Process Technician, Pipeline Technician, and Industrial Mechanics Technician. A fifth pathway, Production Technician is under development.

The ShaleNET grant has been instrumental in allowing Stark State College to develop its oil and natural gas programs. ShaleNET funding is used for staffing (administrative and instructors), curriculum development, and equipment procurement. The Well-Site Trainer Lab and Simtronics Simulator Software, both of which would be cost prohibitive without ShaleNET funds, are fundamental parts of our curriculum. Both Simtronics and the well-site trainer are key components that allow us to develop class exercises and hands-on activities that have value to potential employers.

We are in just our second semester of these new ShaleNET based degree offerings, and we already have over 70 declared majors with over 100 participants in our credit-based classes. In fall 2014, we are extending ShaleNET into the secondary education classroom, by offering our PET101 class in a 100% web-based format. This delivery modality was developed to allow vocational schools, high schools and career centers to incorporate PET101 into any distance learning classroom since it needs only a proctor to mediate student activities. As of now, there are several post-secondary institutions planning to offer PET101 in the fall with over 20 students registered. Students who complete the class with a passing grade will also receive college credit for the class if they enroll in a ShaleNET degree program at Stark State College.

With ShaleNET, we are off to a great start to closing the skills gap!

– Daniel Schweitzer, ShaleNET Hub Director, Stark State College

Bonnie Pfister
Jim Judkis/Courtesy Washington Post Fred Rogers and an unnamed boy at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Institute, 1978.
Jim Judkis/Courtesy Washington Post
Fred Rogers and an unnamed boy at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Institute, 1978.

It may not feel much like spring today, but one thing that can always bring a lift to the spirit is remembering Fred Rogers. America’s favorite neighbor would have been 86 years old today.

Born in Latrobe, Westmoreland County, Fred Rogers was a minister, an educator, a songwriter, an author and of course creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968-2001 from public radio station WQED, based in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. He was beloved by children of all ages for speaking to them directly and without condescension. When he died at age 74 in 2003, The New York Times noted he had been one of the country’s most sought-after commencement speakers. “If college seniors were not always bowled over by his pronouncements, they often cried tears of joy just to see him, an old friend of their childhood.” is proud to be part of the place Mr. Rogers called home, so much so that when we decided to showcase real people who have chosen to move to – or move back to – the Pittsburgh region, we dubbed them our Neighbors.

Want to learn about and connect with them?  Take the “Find Yourself in Pittsburgh” quiz to be matched up with “Neighbor types” who may share your interests — be they Outdoor Enthusiasts, City Centrics, Family Focused and more — and have tips on what’s fun and engaging to do in the region. Use the powerful job search aggregator featuring more than 22,000 jobs open right now in the region, to consider your next career move, or check out our Featured Employers to find out what jobs they’ve got open and what they’re looking for in people they hire and promote. (Among those hiring are The Children’s Institute, where the much-shared photo of Fred Rogers, above, was taken in 1978.)