ImaginePittsburgh.com

“Don’t change the curriculum. Change the culture.”

That’s the approach of Lenore Blum, computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University since 1999. Rather than changing or “dumbing down” the curriculum, CMU established mentorship programs offering support and continuity from faculty.

Read all about it in the article by CNN Tech’s by Sara Ashley O’Brien, excerpted below.

cmu-women-qatar

“So many eligible women.”

That’s how Carnegie Mellon’s Lenore Blum referred to this year’s applicants for CMU’s School of Computer Science. Women make up 48% of incoming freshman this year — a new high for the school.

There were nearly 7,000 applicants for the program this year. It accepted just 166, which is about 30% larger than in past years.

The percent of women in the class far surpasses the national average of 16.5% for undergraduate computer science programs, according to the Computing Research Association’s Taulbee Survey.

Blum, who teachers computer science, said there was no talk of “lowering of the bar” at CMU to do so.

“Every year, we get more and more women. And every year, it seems like all the scores and stats go up. It is competitive to get into our program,” Blum said.

Related: Women coders do better than men in gender-blind study

That stands in contrast to the commonly-cited “pipeline problem,” which some in Silicon Valley use as the reason their companies aren’t diverse — that there simply aren’t enough minority or female STEM graduates.

Blum said blaming the pipeline is a “mistake.”

“You start with the group you have,” she added, noting that this year’s achievement reflects incremental growth over several decades.

While Harvey Mudd College credited a redesigned curriculum, for bringing in and retaining more female students, Blum and CMU have taken a very different approach.

When Blum joined CMU in 1999, she said there was serious talk of changing the curriculum to attract more women. “I said, ‘No way. You change the culture — not the curriculum.’”

Instead, Blum started Women@SCS, a mentorship organization for female computer science students. Unlike many organizations that are student-run, this particular group is led by faculty, which means there’s continuity even when students graduate. “You need the guidance and institutional support and the memory,” Blum said.

“Encouraging women by giving them a support system and a sense of community is a good idea,” Macallan Cruff, an 18-year-old CMU freshman told CNNMoney. “Don’t dumb down the curriculum.”

Cruff said she’s been pleasantly surprised to see a 50/50 split of men and women in her courses, compared to about four women in a class of 25 in her high school computer science class.

Related: Parents, yes! Your princesses can code

Cruff hopes schools will work to foster a sense of community for students at a much younger age. As a junior in high school, Cruff formed a “Coding Club” at a nearby elementary school to start introducing programming to girls in the third grade.

Blum said Carnegie Mellon is also focused on reaching students before they even enter college. It trains high school teachers on the latest programming languages, which encourages them to spread the word about CMU to their students.

She stressed the importance of having the administration put money behind the school’s efforts and not solely rely on grants.

Blum noted that Silicon Valley has been recruiting Carnegie Mellon’s graduates, an obvious move given that most tech companies are looking for talented candidates, especially female ones.

But she said it could compromise the number of women going on to get computer science PhDs. “I have concerns about that,” she said.

What pipeline problem? Carnegie Mellon nears gender parity CNNMoney (New York) / First published September 16, 2016: 10:13 AM ET

Alison Treaster

For decades, the Pittsburgh region has been a haven for refugees fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries. Refugee families, children and individuals have put down roots in southwestern Pennsylvania with the help of local resettlement agencies, religious organizations and nondenominational groups. Today, our region is dotted with vibrant communities of hard-working Bhutanese, Bosnian, Burmese, Congolese, Iraqi, Somali, Sudanese and Syrian refugees, among others.

While adapting to a new home with different languages and customs is difficult even in the best of circumstances, refugees positively contribute to the Pittsburgh community in a variety of ways. On June 17, Pittsburgh’s World Refugee Day in Market Square celebrated those contributions with musical and dance performances, as well as “Refugee Voices” presentations and food and fares from the local communities.

WRD_Poster_2016Who are refugees? A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. While returning home is often a goal, many refugees spend years in temporary camps in third countries before either returning home or being approved for resettlement in an adopted country. Their plight has been brought to wider public attention over the past year as conflict in Syria and ongoing violence around the world has forced more than 15 million people to flee their country of origin. The United Nations’ Refugee Agency calls this the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Through it all, Pittsburgh has remained a welcoming city. Thanks to the tireless efforts of various organizations, our region continues to help more than 500 refugees create homes here each year. The U.S. refugee process is grueling and typically takes years. Refugees remain among the most highly vetted population to enter our country, undergoing screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and one-on-one interviews abroad before they may be approved to enter the United States.

For more information or to help refugees in the Pittsburgh region, contact a local refugee resettlement agency such as  AJAPOCatholic CharitiesJewish Family & Children’s Services or the Northern Area Multi-Service Center.

ImaginePittsburgh.com

Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC announced on June 7 that it will — after four years of consideration – build a major petrochemical complex on the banks of the Ohio River in Potter Township, Beaver County (about 30 miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh). The project will create 6,000 jobs during construction and 600 during operation when completed. Learn more from Shell’s news release. A statement from Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, is available here.

For complete, ongoing information check out the Pittsburgh Regional AllianceThe PRA is the business development affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, of which ImaginePittsburgh.com is a project. 

From the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s June 7, 2016 story:  Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to go ahead with its multibillion-dollar petrochemical plant in Beaver County shifts the discussion over reaping benefits of the shale gas boom from whether it will spur manufacturing to how much.

Civic and business leaders said Tuesday’s long-anticipated announcement by the energy giant — more than four years after it picked a site at a shuttered zinc smelter along the Ohio River — signals good news: for shale drillers challenged by low prices, for a manufacturing base left low by steel’s demise, and for 6,000 workers Shell will employ during construction.

“The term game-changer is much overused, and I’m guilty of over-using it. But it absolutely is appropriate in this case,” Gov. Tom Wolf told the Tribune-Review hours after Shell made the announcement with little fanfare. “This is a game-changer for our economy.”

The so-called final investment decision sets up another four or five years of work; Shell said construction will begin within 18 months and wrap up “early in the next decade” on the first major ethane cracker to be built outside the Gulf Coast in 20 years. It eventually will employ 600 people.
The company cited as reasons for its decision the site’s proximity both to plentiful ethane produced by many Marcellus shale gas wells here and to potential customers for the ethylene it will produce — a building block of plastics. It also stands to receive a tax credit package worth tens of millions annually.

“More than 70 percent of North American polyethylene customers are within a 700-mile radius of Pittsburgh,” the company said in a news release.
The announcement appears to end years of debate that swirled as Shell prepared the massive site in Potter and Center while a global collapse in oil and natural gas prices prompted the company to lay off thousands and halt other projects. Increased work on the site — which included construction of a bridge over nearby Route 18, movements of power lines and $80 million in environmental remediation — escalated speculation even as Shell cut costs worldwide.

“The fact that Royal Dutch Shell is still moving forward on this tremendous investment at a time of historic low oil and gas prices is a testament to our commonwealth’s commitment to developing our abundant natural resources,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Republican whose district includes southern Beaver County.

CEO Ben van Beurden said the company, which recently acquired gas producer BG Group, would reduce capital spending this year to $29 billion, 35 percent lower than the two companies spent in 2014. Shell has not put a price tag on the Beaver County project, though analysts estimate it at between $6 billion and $7 billion.

Shell’s delay in starting construction prompted questions from at least one analyst who said an 18-month pause is unusual.

“I guess I’m not 100 percent convinced,” said Steve Lewandowski, global business director for olefins at Houston-based energy analyst IHS. He said Shell still needs to watch its cash flow as oil remains around $50 per barrel.

The delay might provide time for workers to finish plants on the Gulf Coast over the next few years before shifting to Beaver County, Lewandowski said. The Allegheny Conference on Community Development said the region will need to pull from other states to fill the construction jobs needed to build the plant.

Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said the company has canceled projects it began, though he could not say whether that was after final investment decisions were announced.

Wolf and others said they have no doubt Shell is moving ahead on Western Pennsylvania’s largest building project in a generation.

“We believe that a capital investment of this magnitude indicates to other companies in the energy, petrochemical and plastics industries that southwestern Pennsylvania should be on their short list of locations for new facilities and expansions,” said Allegheny Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky. He noted that polyethylene demand is forecast to grow worldwide.

Environmental groups fought the state air permits Shell received in 2015 and complained about the wide swath of land cleared on both sides of Route 18 after the company bought the former Horsehead Holdings Corp. zinc smelter and neighboring properties for $13.5 million.

“We continue to have concerns about the significant air pollution being added to our region, just as we are starting to make progress cleaning up our air,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action.

Advocates say the plant will bring more benefits as plastics manufacturers set up shop close to the cracker.

“Those products will span from food to fabrics to outdoor decks. All those things can now be made here, in the middle of the market, the Keystone State,” Wolf said, noting the company he used to own had to source its PVC for decks and railings from Texas.

That will provide relief for gas drillers who will get a large local customer for 90,000 barrels of their ethane daily. Limited pipelines to more lucrative markets have pushed down prices, prompting layoffs and a huge slowdown in drilling.

Cecil-based Consol Energy, one of the companies that contracted with Shell to sell it ethane, said the announcement “marks a major turning point for the region.”

“This investment … reflects that fact that domestic manufacturing’s potential is near limitless thanks to our abundant and stable energy supplies from natural gas,” said David Spigelmyer, president of the North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition.

The Shell plant is one of three proposed for the region. Brazilian energy companies Braskem and Odebrecht put on hold a plan to build in West Virginia, but Thai firm PTT Global Chemical continues to assess a possible site in Belmont County, Ohio.

Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas said he does not think Shell’s decision will deter PTT.

“In my mind it validates that southwestern Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio … have sufficient resources to handle multiple cracker plants, at least two,” he said.

Potential contractors also expect to see benefits.

Steamfitters Local 449 in Pittsburgh has been ramping up its apprenticeship program in anticipation of Shell’s announcement, union business manager Ken Broadbent said.

“I brought in 70 percent more apprentices than usual,” Broadbent said. “I’m trying to be proactive and get ready for a big project like this.”

Downtown-based specialty steel producer Allegheny Technologies Inc. said the cracker project could benefit the company’s Flat Rolled Products business, which makes stainless steel and titanium alloys for pipes used in the energy industry. ATI laid off about a third of the nonunion workers from the Flat Rolled Products business in April in response to the downturn. The layoffs followed the indefinite idling of mills in Midland and Gilpin where more than 600 workers were employed.

What’s a cracker? According to Shell, such plants “break down large molecules from oil and natural gas into smaller ones. An ethylene cracker produces base petrochemical ‘building blocks,’ which are the first stage in the chemicals manufacturing chain.”

The cracker will produce polyethylene, which Shell says “is used to produce many common household items ranging from packaging to sports equipment, construction materials, automotive fuel tanks, toys and garden furniture.”

“Pittsburgh’s sounding awfully nice.”

That’s the assessment from Bloomberg News, citing the Graduate Opportunity Index. Newly created by Trulia and LinkedIn, the index places Pittsburgh at the top of 40 of the country’s strongest job markets based on these factors:

• the share of entry-level job openings for recent graduates
• the percentage of rental units affordable* to a median-income college graduate between the ages of 22 and 30
• the share of the area’s population age 22 to 30 that has a bachelor’s degree or more (a measure of how dense a city is with a college grad’s peers)

bloom EYEBALLEDYou can check out the Bloomberg News article and the Graduate Opportunity Index, or better yet get a jump on the competition at ImaginePittsburgh.com, a searchable index of every open job in the 10-county region. Want to hear from a real person about what it’s really like to to live in Pittsburgh? Check out our Neighbors — friendly people from around the corner and around the globe who have chosen to Pittsburgh as the place to advance their career and build a great life without going broke. See someone who shares your career interests? Ping them via their LinkedIn profiles and ask to chat.

*Rent is less than 30 percent of a recent grad’s monthly income

ImaginePittsburgh.com

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Learn what makes a winning ATHENA nomination at Athena-Pittsburgh.com

It’s that time again — time to recognize the extraordinary women in the Pittsburgh region who go above and beyond in their work and mentorship of other women. Nominations for the 2016 Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Awards will be accepted (online only) until 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 30.

Taking its name from the Greek goddess of strength and wisdom, the traditional ATHENA Award recognizes a woman who demonstrates excellence in her profession, contributes to her community and helps other women to succeed. Last year’s recipient was  Lynn M. Banaszak, executive director at Health Innovation in Pennsylvania Disruptive Health Technology Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Josie Badger, Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership (PEAL) Center’s youth development director, received the ATHENA Young Professional Award for emerging leaders age 35 or younger.

Wondering how to craft a winning nomination? Check out this tip sheet put together by Pittsburgh Magazine Publisher Betsy Benson.

There are hundreds of ATHENA International-affiliated events presented around the world each year, but Pittsburgh’s gathering is one of the largest. More than 900 women and men are expected to attend this year’s luncheon on Monday, Sept. 26 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Interested in sponsorship? Contact sgaal@alleghenyconference.org.

Watch videos, learn more at Athena-Pittsburgh.com. / Look for updates under #PghAthena on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Bonnie Pfister
Rainbow Rain by Dong Yang Pinterest
Rainbow Rain by Dong Yang / Pinterest

Got the rainy-day blahs? Maybe it’s your job. Could be that you’re due for a refresh, a new challenge — or at least the spirit-lift that can come from seeing what other opportunities are out there, and adjusting your view accordingly. Pittsburgh’s got thousands of great jobs open today: more than 29,000 jobs across the 10-county region. Here are just a smattering from our awesome Featured Employers:

Financial Analyst at Alcoa

Project Engineer at Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc.

Talent Acquisition Specialist at EQT Corp.

Lead Technical Specialist at Federated Investors

Asphalt Plant Operator at PJ Dick / Lindy Paving

Not quite what you had in mind? Another approach is to see who in Pittsburgh is doing interesting work. Check out our Neighbors — interesting, dynamic people from around the corner and around the globe who have chosen Pittsburgh as the place to build their career and life. You can ping them via their LinkedIn profiles to chat about what they love about their gig or their workplace, and use that human intelligence as you mull your own path. Get on it!