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McKeesport high school students design technology system for disabled veteran's house

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 3:56 a.m.

McKeesport Area High School students designed and built a technology system for a new house that will be used by a disabled veteran.

The students demonstrated the system to current and future engineers on Wednesday evening at Penn State Greater Allegheny campus' Ostermayer Room in McKeesport, where junior Emily Strohm led a PowerPoint presentation.

Her fellow students chimed in when their segments of the project were introduced. Emily was the only female in the group and took on a leadership role.

“It was really overwhelming at first because all of these guys are pretty much in the robotics club, and I knew nothing about computers or engineering, programming or any of that,” Emily said. “They really took me in under their wing and helped me out. I really enjoyed learning about this (information technology) system ... I kind of knew what everyone was doing and didn't have (just) my own part in it.”

Students consulted with a blind Army veteran, who was not at the demonstration nor publicly identified, for input on the project.

“I really want to base my career around helping people improve their lives, and this was a good introduction to it,” Emily said.

They learned the home would need wide hallways and have only one floor, or an elevator would need to be installed.

Students learned about which sensors are practical and necessary in a home for a disabled veteran, and how to write the programs for the sensors.

Juniors Alec Casperson and Steve Mandella developed a four-button remote that can operate lights, door locks, tell if appliances are on, and could contact emergency responders via a panic button.

“It was a lot of fun, mostly because it has to do with an area of work that I am comfortable with,” Alec said. “Anything that has to do with computers or electronics I generally enjoy. I'm planning to become a software engineer ... It has a level of satisfaction regardless of who you're helping, but when you're giving back to somebody who gave so much to protect what we believe in, there's another level of satisfaction being able to give back.”

The high school's Career and Technical Center Building Construction students built the home last year. The single-level three-bedroom home, called the Tiger-Vet House, currently sits on school property. It eventually will be moved to a lot in White Oak.

Blueroof Technologies, a McKeesport-based company that specializes in home design for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, plans to acquire the home from the district for approximately $25,000. A potential resident has yet to be selected.

The high school funded the effort through grants. It paid for materials and half of the three-credit class. Penn State Greater Allegheny provided the other half.

McKeesport Area students are enrolled in the university's Information Sciences and Technology-110 course, and began the project with the McKeesport-based nonprofit technology organization in January.

They worked every Wednesday at Blueroof Technologies' model cottage in McKeesport, unveiled in September 2009.

Blueroof Technologies co-founders John Bertoty and Bob Walters lauded the students for their hard work and how much they learned.

“They came in not knowing much of anything,” Walters said. “We got them involved in our technology and got them involved in a lot of different things.”

“This was not an academic exercise,” Bertoty said. “This is real life. It's engineering and they're doing it.”

Junior Jim Kiss developed a website and background on a “toaster,” a device that senses electric currents and activates an electromagnet, among other functions.

“Everyone in the group was friends. We got along well, laughed, had a bunch of good times and a lot of fun,” Jim said.

The students' website is It has more information about the project, a video and a donation page where people can make tax-deductible contributions.

They designed STEM Clue, a board game designed to generate interest in science and technology in middle school students and other youths.

More information about Blueroof Technologies is available by calling 412-559-7384 or emailing

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or