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Pitt “Inventor Labs” Look to Inspire the Next Generation of Green Engineers

Sanchez, DavidPITTSBURGH (January 31, 2018) … A new grant awarded to the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering will encourage collaboration between university engineering students and K-12 students across the region. The funding will support the creation of Inventor Labs that strengthen community ties by providing hands-on learning spaces in underserved schools and communities in the region.

“Our goal is to engage students from a young age through the time they start applying to colleges by giving them opportunities to interact with science and technology,” says David Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental engineering and Assistant Director at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt. “This is the third consecutive year Pitt received the award, and it will help us continue to grow the large network of University resources we share with our community neighbors.”

The $35,000 grant comes from Constellation, an Exelon company—a provider of power, natural gas, and renewable energy headquartered in Baltimore—as part of its E2 Energy to Educate program. Dr. Sanchez is the director of the Energy to Educate program at Pitt and coordinates University efforts to engage K-12 students, teachers, and communities with concepts in clean energy solutions and sustainability.

“The Community Engagement Center and the Manufacturing Assistance Center Makerspace are two existing programs at the University of Pittsburgh we are leveraging in particular to help achieve our goal of strengthening our community presence and creating opportunities for students to learn about energy and sustainable engineering,” Dr. Sanchez says.

The heart of the project is student participation and the development of student-made, energy technology prototypes. Through a series of “Design-Build” challenges, students will learn about sustainability issues surrounding electric cars, wind and water turbines, and waste-heat and wastewater.

“The Design-Build challenges are based on engineering concepts linked to Pittsburgh themes like self-driving car initiatives and an abundance of dams and rivers,” adds Dr. Sanchez.

Dr. Sanchez plans to help a total of 60 student teams this year learn about engineering design, embedded systems, programming, and energy devices. Students will be able to showcase their creations at their schools, enter them in tech competitions, and implement them in their communities.

“The students will be building electric cars powered by Lithium-ion batteries, small-scale wind turbines, and solar panels to power water treatment pumps,” says Dr. Sanchez. “The really interesting thing is the students will get feedback on their prototypes from engineers currently working in the energy field.”

Last year alone, the award funding helped Pitt directly impact more than 1,500 students from universities, charter schools, middle schools, and outreach programs. The “Teach the Teacher” program, a two-day workshop at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, indirectly impacted an additional 1,300 students by instructing teachers from the region how to integrate sustainable engineering concepts into their classrooms.

The award also supported collaboration with Swanson School student clubs and local pre-college students. Dr. Sanchez participated in The Society of Women Engineers’ “Girls Engineering in Middle School” day and taught them how to build electrical circuits out of clay. He also helped high school and middle school students build wind turbines at The National Society of Black Engineers “A Walk for Education,” their largest service and outreach program. Constellation also served as one of the sponsors for the Design EXPO showcasing more than 90 projects from 400 Pitt engineering students.

“In the same way we strive to find sustainable solutions to engineering challenges, we want to use this funding to create a sustainable impact on the community. Enhancing the personal and technical formation of each of these students in the realm of energy and sustainable engineering is not only a joy to be a part of but an opportunity to build long term community equity,” says Dr. Sanchez.


Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Contact: Paul Kovach