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Foreign Ambassadors Descend On Pittsburgh For State Department's Experience America Program

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA
Serbian ambassador Derd Matkovich poses with CMU's CHIMP robot at the National Robotics Engineering Center on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

More than 30 ambassadors to the U.S. from around the world were in Pittsburgh this week, touring research laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. They also rubbed elbows with local luminaries at the Andy Warhol Museum, including Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

State Department Acting Chief of Protocol Rosemarie Pauli oversaw the visit, which is part of the department’s Experience America program. She said the program allows diplomats to explore the diversity of the country, outside of just the D.C. area where they spend most of their time.

Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
The CMU-sponsored Girls of Steel robotics team members Lauren Scheller-Wolf, 16, Arushi Bandi, 16 and Cheyenne Meyers, 17 talk with foreign diplomats at the National Robotics Engineering Center on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

“Pittsburgh, we just looked at it, and it was so dynamic and wonderful, and what it has done, how it has come back and totally bounced back to this wonderful city, and everyone fell in love with it,” Pauli said. “So the Mayor invited everyone back, and they’re all going to come back on their own.”

The trips are also meant to help build economic and diplomatic ties between American cities and countries around the world.

Liechtenstein's ambassador Kurt Jaeger said he sees a lot of similarities between old Europe and Pittsburgh.

“This interaction of the academic world, good universities here, the legacy industries, how they were able to transform into new areas, I find that very fascinating to see how they were able to overcome the difficult years with the steel industry collapse,” Jaeger said.

At CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center Tuesday morning, the foreign diplomats learned about projects using robots to identify land mines, sort grain and remove toxic paints and coatings from the hulls of ships.

Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA
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CMU robotics professor Illah Nourbakhsh (left) speaks with foreign diplomats at the National Robotics Engineering Center on May 23, 2017, about his work using big data to understand global problems such as sea level rise and the refugee crisis.

They also heard from CMU robotics professor Illah Nourbakhsh, who shared visualizations of big data on a global scale, which can help policy makers understand issues like sea level rise, pandemics and economic fragility in cities.

One map Nourbakhsh shared overlaid refugee flows with acts of violence around the world.

“And what people see as they observe the data flows is that in fact refugees and migrants flee acts of violence. They do not go to countries to cause acts of violence,” he said. “And when world leaders see that visually, it changes the game. It changes the relationship to the information.”

Nourbakhsh said he wants to share this data with museums and policy makers around the world, and implored the diplomats present to help him make connections in their home countries.

Carlos Dos Santos, the ambassador from Mozambique, said he was particularly interested in collaborating with organizations that are making energy extraction more environmentally friendly, particularly when it comes to coal and natural gas.

“These are two sources of energy that Mozambique has and is starting to develop now, and because here, the two sources have been developed in the past and are being redeveloped now with new technologies and trying to avoid the mistakes of the past like pollution and things like that,” Dos Santos said.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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