Phil Cynar

It’s Imagine! Career Week in the Pittsburgh region – a time each spring devoted to helping better prepare today’s young people for their futures as our workforce of tomorrow.  Students, their parents, educators and employers will all be coming together at this time to find answers to questions such as “what do I want to be?” … “what kind of training and education is necessary?” … and “where will the jobs be?”

Here in the region where the economy is driven by knowledge, many of the job and career opportunities have STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills at their root now, and this requisite will continue.  Successful candidates for the region’s careers of tomorrow will need to be STEM-fluent (or even STEAM-fluent … Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).  The time is now for the region’s young people to acquire and hone skills ruled by the left and right brain – analytical ability and creativity.  Command of these skills will differentiate the best candidates for exciting jobs and careers here in the Pittsburgh region, now and in the years to come.

The Pittsburgh Regional Compact – a partnership between educators and employers in the region who are collaborating to prepare young people for the region’s jobs and careers of the future – has just released its Spring 2012 issue of the Compact Quarterly newsletter.  This issue explores STEM and its impact on the workforce of tomorrow from a variety of perspectives.

In fact, we’ve dubbed this our “STEM” edition of the newsletter.  The communiqué and its articles complement much of the information and activities that will be presented during this year’s Imagine! Career Week.

It’s spring; the ground is soft and ready for hearty, sustaining roots.  Let’s plant some STEM seeds, nurture and cultivate them, and grow amazing individuals ready for the opportunities our region has to offer.

Think engineers are made in college? Think again.

Calvin Phelps, national chair of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) says engineers are built in the third or fourth grade.

Tre’ Bohannon is an eighth-grader from Dallas whose team, part of Project Still I Rise, competed in NSBE student competitions in Pittsburgh recently.

Phelps made his point at the recent NSBE gathering in Pittsburgh, which drew more than 8,500 engineers, students and teachers  to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.The organization’s  mission is “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”

One way NSBE does this is by dedicating countless hours of mentorship to students  with interest in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and math. As Phelps points out in the video interview below, NSBE hosts the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) to expose youth in grades 3-5 to engineering and technology.

Serving a broader audience is the Pre-Collegiate Institute, which addresses K-12 students who demonstrate talent in engineering. Elisha Clayton and Cavon Cormack discuss that in a second video, also below.

At the event, I met Tre’ Bohannon, an eighth-grader whose team, part of Project Still I Rise, from Dallas, Texas, won first place in a robotics and engineering design competition.  Many students first become interested in engineering through robot competitions, such as the recent BotsIQ competition in Westmoreland County.

With the growth of STEM companies and a surplus of jobs in these fields, our region’s students have a lot to be excited about as they prepare to enter the workforce. And NSBE – which is primarily led by college students and recent graduates – is well-positioned to help bridge the gap between younger students and the workforce.

Listen to Phelps talk about the SEEK Camps:

Hear Clayton and Cormack discuss the Pre-Collegiate Initiative:

Phil Cynar

When the going is tough – as in the worst national recession since the 1930s – the tough get going. It’s exactly that tough-get-going drive, exhibited by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA), which has earned the alliance a place among the top 10 economic development groups in the U.S. for 2011.

Site Selection magazine – the nation’s oldest publication focused on corporate real estate strategy and area economic development – announced its Top 10 economic development groups on April 23 at the Industrial Asset Management Council’s Spring Forum in Austin, Texas. The recognition is based on the PRA’s performance in 2011 measured against a range of criteria in four categories: new jobs, new jobs per 10,000 residents, new investment amount and new investment per 10,000 residents. Organizations were also scrutinized for more subjective qualities including innovation, leadership and customer service.

An affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the PRA is the 10-county Pittsburgh region’s public-private economic development partnership that markets the benefits of conducting business in southwestern Pennsylvania to companies worldwide that are growing, relocating or expanding.

In March, the PRA released its own annual inventory of comprehensive, region-wide economic development deals, or “wins,” announced during 2011 – data which is complementary to Site Selection’s criteria for a top economic development organization. Despite a sluggish national economy, continued strength across a diverse portfolio of sectors helped the Pittsburgh region to land 286 economic development deals tied to nearly $1.5 billion in capital investment and a total employment impact of 17,000 jobs. That includes 11, 440 new jobs that are to be created over time. The region is nearing pre-recession levels of business investment.

“We’re sustaining positive momentum in the Pittsburgh region not just because of a diverse economy that’s strong, but also because of the strength of our PRA partnership approach to economic development,” said David Malone, PRA Partnership chair, vice chair of the Allegheny Conference and president and CEO of Gateway Financial. “We have 50-plus organizations pulling in the same direction to make this region a destination of choice for new business investment, as well as a place where existing business can expand and grow. Collaboration – a network of partners ready to work for the success of companies that invest here – is how we do business. That’s the power of Pittsburgh.”

Ben Kamber

Pittsburgh has come quite a long way from the smoky city of only a few decades ago. Robert Vagt is President of the Heinz Endowments and Organizer of the Breathe Project, a coalition dedicated to clearing up the air to support physical health and a more robust economy. Citing environmentally conscious actions taken by companies such as U.S. Steel Corporation and The PNC Financial Services Group, Vagt encourages Pittsburgh to be proud of its accomplishments, and spurs individuals and companies to continue to work together to improve the quality of our air.

How does the local chapter of a charity deal when its national parent organization is engulfed in controversy? Kathy Purcell, Executive Director of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Pittsburgh, discusses the immediate effects of the decisions that were made, and the charitable, life-saving work that Susan G. Komen, Pittsburgh continues to do every day.

Eric Shiner, Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, explains how the timeless pop art icon has become a global ambassador for the region. Shiner discusses what’s in the works locally in coming months for the museum, along with Warhol exhibitions travelling internationally as far as Singapore.

Our Region’s Business” airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Bill Flanagan

Congrats to Highlands High School and their robot, Honeybadger, the Grand Champion of the 2012 Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition April 14 at Westmoreland County Community College. I’ve emceed the finals of the event since its inception seven years ago. Back then just six schools battled. This year hundreds of students from more than 40 schools competed from all over the Pittsburgh region.

The idea is to get young people interested in science, technology, education and math by giving them an incentive to build and battle with robots. The teams have to do more than simply design, manufacture, and operate the “bots;” they must document all their work, just as engineers do in real manufacturing settings. Corporate partners who work with the students, their parents and teachers to build the best bot. The local chapter of the NTMA, the National Tool and Machining Association, brought the event to our region to get out in front of the aging of our workforce and introduce a new generation to the thrill of making – and, yes, destroying – things.

Plum Senior High School Students posing with their champion robot “Still ‘N Shock 2"

By all accounts, the strategy is working. Surveys of the youngsters who have participated in BotsIQ indicate that they’re more likely to choose engineering as a career. All of this is all the more important given the growth in manufacturing jobs in our region. Last year, more than 50 manufacturers expanded in our region or were attracted to set up shop here. In addition, manufacturing employment is growing faster here than it is across the state or nation. A lot of the same skills apply to the energy industries that are expanding in our region. We are going to need to educate, train and attract a lot more skilled workers if we’re going to keep up.

Although Highlands took the top prize because of the performance of their bot and their attention to detail in documentation, Plum Senior High School’s “Still ‘N Shock 2” won the actual competition, beating Kiski Area High School’s “Bruce Wayne” in the final match of the day. But a three-way tie for “Best Sportsmanship” is worth noting. Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, Hempfield Area High School and Mapletown Junior/Senior High School were honored by their fellow competitors for their willingness to help other teams and make sure that every bot that came to compete was able to compete. It’s an award in the true spirit of the power of Pittsburgh to innovate and collaborate to make things happen.

You can find out more about BotsIQ at their website, www.botsiqpa.org. You can also check out a video (below) I produced at last year’s event.  Better yet, encourage your local high school or career & technical center to create a team and battle for bot supremacy. Sure, it’s fun to win a competition like this, but it’s even better to participate in a program that’s going to make our region a better competitor in the future.

Bonnie Pfister

Washington & Jefferson College this week opens its Center for Energy Policy and Management, bringing together scientists, industry leaders, elected officials, advocates and citizens to shape policy while working to minimize environmental impact and promote economic growth.

The center will be home to the W&J Energy Security Index, a benchmark for measuring the energy security of the United States developed at the college by two faculty economists.

On Monday, April 23, the center is hosting a free summit entitled “Taking Control of Our Energy Future.” The event will feature the Allegheny Conference’s own Bill Flanagan, as well as Susan Eisenhower of the Eisenhower Institute, Newsweek‘s Eleanor Clift, former PA Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty, as well as discussions by several elected officials, nonprofit researchers and industry leaders.

For additional information, contact Karen Oosterhous at KOosterhous@washjeff.edu or 724-223-5294.