Teens from Western Pa. high schools work to address global water shortage

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Water is a basic necessity, but it often is taken for granted in areas where it is plentiful, cheap and clean, local teens say.

The teens — 25 sophomores from North Allegheny Intermediate High School and 26 juniors and seniors from South Fayette High School — learned about how significant a problem access to clean and sufficient drinking water is internationally during the past six months as they collaborated in the Global Passport Project. The project is a school-to-business partnership in which students work with industry executives to address global issues.

“This was a student-driven project,” said Maureen Pedzwater, coordinator of the Global Passport Project.

This is the first year North Allegheny students participated. South Fayette students have been engaging in school-to-business collaborations after school since 2008, but the Global Passport Project brought the program into the classroom in the 2013-14 school year, Pedzwater said.

The students worked to address the issue of global water shortages with Thar Technologies Inc., an O'Hara-based company that developed a water desalination process that uses high temperatures and pressure to force salt and contaminants out of salt water, making it drinkable, said John Davis, a development manager at Thar.

Sixteen South Fayette teens in a science seminar class researched 10 developing countries that would most benefit from Thar's technology based on several factors, including the countries' size, their need for clean water and adequate access to the sea.

They presented four contenders — Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Mexico — to North Allegheny students, who reduced the list to two countries based on social, political, economic and other factors.

Ten South Fayette students who are members of the school's Future Business Leaders of America narrowed the list to one country, India, because of factors including its stable democracy, strong growth and potential cost effectiveness of setting up Thar's water desalination system there.

The South Fayette and North Allegheny students presented their findings to Lalit Chordia, CEO of Thar, and other executives and community members on Tuesday in Thar's offices. The FBLA students presented a business plan that focused on India.

“It's really a technology that can change the world,” South Fayette senior and FBLA Treasurer Frank Morelli, 17, said during the presentation. “We feel it's the most ethical way to go about this, and it is responsible.”

Chordia said the recommendation to focus on India is the one he would have made. Chordia is from India.

Not only does it give him confidence in his decision, “it says these guys know what they are talking about,” he said.

Some students were surprised by their research.

“Even in North America, we have water problems. And that was really interesting,” said Kristina Fowler, 16, a junior at South Fayette and a member of the science seminar leadership team.

Tom Isaac, South Fayette's senior seminar teacher, and Heather Logan and T.J. Salopek, North Allegheny social studies teachers, acted as Global Passport Project facilitators during classroom instruction.

“(The students) were very connected … they figured out how big the water problem was,” Logan said.

The teens worked with the World Affairs Council, of which Chordia is vice chair, and Allegheny Connect, which set up video conferencing between the local students and a school in India.

The South Fayette students can receive dual enrollment credit in science from Community College of Allegheny County, Pedzwater said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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