More than 100 Pittsburgh students toured the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park on Friday to talk to experts about science, technology, engineering and math careers.
The lab was one of four in the country selected to host the event as part of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which challenges cities to focus on programming for at-risk youth.
Pittsburgh officials have worked with local partners in Allegheny Country to forge long-term strategic programs to meet Obama’s goals. A regional chapter of My Brother’s Keeper was established last year in response to the president’s challenge.
Throughout the day, minority students were exposed to practical STEM skills, lab work and potential career opportunities in the energy field.
Scott Kalra, the lab's deputy director, said about 40 percent of the lab’s staff are retirement eligible. With an aging workforce, there will be waves of turnover, he said.
“We’re truly in the stages of looking for the next generation of engineers and scientists," Kalra said. "So for us to get involved in programs like this at the elementary, middle school and high school levels really is beneficial to us."
Jody Tallbear, strategic initiatives and policy advisor for the U.S. Department of Energy, said the lab day is intended to spark interest and ensure students they can obtain a STEM career.
“We study things and the circles we travel in are really dictated by the people that we know and so we definitely want to expose children to an environment that they otherwise would not see,” she said.
Community groups with youth programming brought their students to the event, said LaTrenda Sherill, the Pittsburgh’s deputy chief of operations and administration. The initiative supports the city’s goal of regional growth and sustainability for young people, she said.
“Both the Urban League and the Cares Mentoring Movement represent those types of youth, those that aren’t normally represented in the STEM fields," Sherill said. "There was no real process for selecting the youth; the only criteria was we want young people of color to be here today.”
My Brother’s Keeper focuses on six milestones: getting a healthy start and entering school ready to learn; reading at grade level by third grade; graduating from high school ready for college and career; completing postsecondary education or training; successfully entering the workforce; and keeping kids on track and giving them second chances.
Locally those needs include workforce development, education and police interaction.