ImaginePittsburgh.com

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.”

Powered by NEXTpittsburgh / Amanda Waltz

All eyes were on Pittsburgh yesterday when 500-plus invited guests gathered at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh for the first-ever White House Frontiers Conference, a daylong event culminating in an address by President Barack Obama and panel where he participated.

At CMU’s Jared L. Cohon University Center, Secret Service agents and SWAT team members weaved through hundreds of tech entrepreneurs and students attending panels featuring top scientists and researchers discussing innovative approaches to solving community and national issues. Those leading the interplanetary track–which covered space exploration and the journey to Mars–were easily identified by their shirts emblazoned with NASA patches.

Just down the street, the University of Pittsburgh hosted tracks on healthcare (Personal) and the issues of climate change and clean energy (Global). The other two tracks featured were Local, focusing on transportation and criminal justice, and National, featuring Artifical Intelligence.

At the event, it was announced that $300 million in funds would be granted to further technology’s role in improving city infrastructure, brain research, small-satellite technology and precision medicine.

The choice of setting made sense in a time when Pittsburgh has garnered wide attention for its role as an emerging tech hub and smart city.

“Pittsburgh’s overnight success story is 30 years of hard work and innovation,” said Mayor Bill Peduto while addressing attendees at the Local Frontiers track. At the center of that success are the research and startups produced by Pitt and CMU.

The Local Track

Peduto offered his views on transportation on a panel that included United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Zipcar co-founder and former CEO Robin Chase, and Tim Kentley-Klay of the autonomous driving startup Zoox.

In a breakout session on transportation that followed, Foxx asked, “What fundamental changes in transportation policy need to happen? It took a hell of a lot to get Congress focused on it. The conversation has always been 90 percent where will the money come from and 10 percent policy.” It needs to be the reverse, he said.

The $65 million in new funding awards announced at the Conference “will help cities and communities do the work to advance on a local level,” he said, citing the work of the Traffic 21 initiative in Pittsburgh where smart traffic signals have helped to reduce traffic congestion by 40 percent. The increased funding will allow that to “be applied to Downtown Pittsburgh much more broadly.”

“To reduce congestion, to increase safety, to really hardness opportunity, we are changing how we think about innovation,” Foxx said. ” There has to be constant vigilance by everyone . . . You tell us what you don’t like, tell us what you do like; we’re going to keep trying to build a better mousetrap.”

Kids are our future

Two themes that resounded throughout the day were about how our children will be the ones to solve many of the problems we face today and how critical it is to prepare all of our kids for the future, and how no one should be left behind as we innovate our way to the future.

“We are stronger than we think we are,” said Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer at the White House. “How do we unlock and unleash the talent of everyone?”

More than once, a panelist talked about how “a seven-year-old is out there” who will one day to be able to solve the problems we face today. The 20-year-old leader of Greening Forward, Charles Orgbon III, urged the audience to “think differently about your role with young people. You’re not just a teacher of young people. To create that transformative change, we’re gonna need a lot of things and one of those things is your role as a mentor.”

The problems of today, he said, “should not be left to so-called experts. Young people are ready to take action against the environmental issues that impact us and the global challenges we face. We’re the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change.”

Obama addressed climate change in his remarks. “We don’t listen to science just when it fits our ideology. That’s the path to ruin,” he said. “When the Russians beat us into space we didn’t deny that Sputnik was up there…we acknowledged the facts and then we built a space program almost overnight and beat them to the moon.”

Obama gave a shout-out to numerous people and groups advancing the city, including the Girls of Steel, the upcoming Maker Faire, and the remarkable work at Pitt around brain implants. He talked about meeting Nathan Copeland, paralyzed since 2014, who has a prosthetic arm that allows him to feel sensation in his fingers. He shook his hand, said Obama, then they fist-bumped.

Making sure all are included

A panel roundtable discussion later led by Chief Innovation & Performance Officer Debra Lam pointed out that Pittsburgh still has some hurdles to overcome in order to make this new tech landscape inclusive for all.

“You need to ask, am I reaching out to everyone?” Lam said as she led a group containing tech, education and nonprofit representatives from Pittsburgh and throughout the country. “If I’m not, how do I do that?”

One solution lies in sourcing and analyzing data to understand the city’s needs and concerns. It was recently used to show how diverse Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods really were. “Data doesn’t lie,” said Lam.

Chief of Innovation and Performance Debra Lam at the White House Frontiers Conference. Photo by Amanda Waltz.
Chief of Innovation & Performance Debra Lam at the White House Frontiers Conference. Photo by Amanda Waltz.
The words ring true for one agreement made just prior to Obama’s arrival for his afternoon address. Peduto announced plans to join forces with White House-led Police Data Initiative (PDI), which supports efforts of local law enforcement to build trust with the communities they serve by using data to increase transparency and accountability.

“In order to rebuild police-community trust, transparency is a vital first step,” said Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay in an official statement. “In a free democracy, the public has a right to understand the workings of government, and the actions of law enforcement touch the lives of our citizenry in powerful ways.”

Part of the participation includes the expansion of the Guide to Crime, Courts, and Corrections, a website developed by the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center (WPRDC) to increase public access to law enforcement data for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The WPRDC will enlist help from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, the Department of Innovation & Performance, and the Allegheny County Human Services to add up-to-date information on everything from non-traffic violations to police training to civil rights lawsuits.

The site will also feature a variety of tools, such as charts, maps, interactive visuals and reports, as well as additional criminal justice-related data provided by Allegheny County and the State of Pennsylvania.

“This important work continues to build upon our broader efforts around open data,” said Lam in an official statement. “We hope that providing such data not only increases government accountability but empowers the community and strengthens partnerships. This is another testament to Pittsburgh’s inclusive innovation.”

Over the next decade, job seekers in the Pittsburgh region will find abundant opportunities, particularly in cybersecurity, “FinTech” (financial technology) and predictive analytics for the healthcare and energy sectors, a report released May 4 suggests.

Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region notes that digital and customer-service competencies will cut across many of the jobs of the future. Job types that will see the largest increase in growth include healthcare support, healthcare practitioners and technicians, and IT jobs drawing on computer and mathematical skills.

“The future of work in the region is an unprecedented opportunity for existing workers and our up-and-coming workforce now in K-12 and post-secondary education,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and CEO of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. He is the chair of the Workforce Strategy of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which commissioned the report.

The need for talented individuals is already apparent on ImaginePittsburgh.com (a program of the Conference): there are more than 20,000 jobs open across the 10-county region, with cybersecurity and other IT professionals in highest demand.

“Technology is a big driver of this change, and it’s redefining the skills needed to be successful on the job,” Demchak added. “Every employer and worker must keep pace with this rapid change to remain competitive. We are at a critical moment for the future of our region.”

Baseline skills such as clear communication and problem solving, however, are also increasingly important as many companies are adopting a more customer-service-driven model. Those skills are also vital for teamwork and internal customer service, another trend already underway in high-demand careers.

The Conference commissioned the report to better understand what jobs will be available across the 10-county Pittsburgh region in coming decade. Boston-based Burning Glass Technologies and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, of Chicago, conducted focus groups with 130 CEOs and HR directors from 85 Pittsburgh region companies and educational institutions in early 2016. It combined those findings with traditional employment metrics and big data capabilities, including artificial intelligence algorithms, to parse tens of thousands of job postings across the Pittsburgh region.

“Not only are other regions trying to keep their talented people, they are looking to attract ours,” said Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky. “We can’t afford to lose or leave anyone behind who has the desire, capacity and skills to be a part of the Pittsburgh region’s workforce.”

An inflection point is the place on a graph where a curve can change direction, typically with dramatic and widespread consequences over time.

The complete Inflection Point report is available at AlleghenyConference.org.

High schools are increasingly re-introducing and expanding technical education courses in response to demand from employers. Many of this growing pool of well-compensated jobs can be acquired with a high school degree and a year or two of technical training or an assoicates degree. As Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Larissa Dudkiewicz points out in the news article below, students such at Chloe Steeb could graduate with two highly-sought-aftter welding certifications on her resume. Located about 30 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh in Butler County, Seneca Valley School District serves Cranberry and Jackson townships, as well as the boroughs of Harmony, Evans City, Zelienople and Seven Fields.

Seneca Valley sophomore Chloe Steeb is studying construction technology, welding and computer-assisted design. The certifications she’s earning qualify her for real-world jobs with good wages upon graduation, although she hasn’t decided upon a career path yet.

When Chloe Steeb told her father she was interested in taking welding at school, he was excited.

After all, it is a job Gary Steeb has been doing for more than 35 years at Robinson Industries in Zelienople.
“I think he was a little surprised when I asked him,” said Chloe, 16, of Cranberry Township. “He thought it is was worthwhile.”

Today, Chloe, a sophomore, is excelling in her welding class at Seneca Valley Intermediate School. She is currently working on a project to make a bedside table out of horse shoes and hopes to move onto an advanced welding class.

“It’s just something that Chloe likes to do,” said her mother, Pam Steeb, who credits Chloe’s welding teacher, Joe Ehrenberger, as a big reason her daughter has excelled in class. “He’s a great teacher. I know my son had him as well.”

Ehrenberger, who teaches applied engineering and technology, said a total of 56 students are in the welding class and seven, including Chloe, are females.

He also teaches metal fabrication, a prerequisite class for ninth and 10th graders, that Steeb is also taking.

Students who take the welding course have a chance to earn their Level I certification through the American Welding Society. To do so, he said they must pass several aspects of welding, from horizontal work welding to plasma cutting.

Ehrenberger said there is talk of offering a Welding II class next year, something he is working on getting approved, but there hasn’t been official approval from the school board or administrator.

Pam Steeb said she learned during open house about the possibility of the advanced course being made available to students next year and told her daughter.

“She could actually leave high school with two certifications as opposed to just the one,” Pam Steeb said. “That the kids have that walking out the door, that’s a pretty big deal.”

Ehrenberger, who has been in the district 15 years, is now in his sixth year teaching welding. Several of his students have gone on to work for pipelines, welding fabrication shops or as welding engineers. He said there are more than 550,000 welding jobs available in the United States right now. The variety of jobs range from industrial to welding microscopic surgical equipment in pristine conditions.

“Welding isn’t just steel,” he said. “Pretty much everything that you touch in the course of a day has probably at one time been welded together.”

Seneca Valley sophomore Chloe Steeb is studying construction technology, welding and computer-assisted design. The certifications she’s earning qualify her for real-world jobs with good wages upon graduation, although she hasn’t decided upon a career path yet.
Seneca Valley sophomore Chloe Steeb is studying construction technology, welding and computer-aided design. The certifications she’s earning qualify her for real-world jobs with good wages upon graduation, although she hasn’t decided upon a career path yet.

Pennsylvania’s workforce is swelling, but is also aging, according to a 2009 assessment of the occupation for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The report found that the welding industry employs much fewer women than men, making women a potentially untapped labor force.

Chloe said she has been asked if she took the class as way to take part in the feminist movement to prove all the guys wrong, which wasn’t her intention.

“I took it because I want to do it. I would love to hopefully have a career in it someday,” she said, adding that she is also interested in being a veterinarian working with horses.

Pam Steeb said her daughter has grown up watching her husband and son tinker around. The family lives on a farm and has a large garage, where they guys fix a lot of their own equipment, she said.

Ehrenberger said anybody can weld, they just have to put the time into it. It helps to have a background in geometry and an understanding of physical restraints, welding pressures, or the type of steel or material being used.

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