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RiverQuest science education program stays afloat with foundation support

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 10:20 p.m.
Built in 2006, RiverQuest Explorer was the world's first environmentally friendly passenger vessel designed expressly to serve an educational mission.

The RiverQuest science education program plans to take thousands of students on field trips aboard its 90-foot boat for at least one more fall semester, thanks to foundations committing $160,000 to help the cash-strapped nonprofit.

The support came shortly after RiverQuest leaders signed an agreement in mid-June to explore a merger with Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., a Homestead nonprofit formed to preserve Western Pennsylvania's heritage and spur redevelopment across eight counties.

That merger awaits the results of a consulting study due by the end of October, RiverQuest President Jim Roddey said.

Yet news of the potential partnership proved enough to bolster confidence among donors in the future of RiverQuest, which Roddey had warned in April was in dire financial straits. He did not want to disclose the sources of new funding until transactions are finalized. He's hoping to raise $20,000 more to hit his target.

“If we are going to go forward, it would be much more advantageous to the organization not to interrupt the program,” Roddey said. “I think that they felt it was worth the risk.”

North Side-based RiverQuest, formerly known as Pittsburgh Voyager, has served more than 100,000 students and another 100,000 members of the general public for two decades. Students on the floating science lab collect water and mud samples and analyze the contents under microscopes.

Roddey expects to host another 3,500 to 4,000 students this fall.

“It's getting to do things hands-on, so that they really feel like they are learning — not sitting in a classroom looking at a book,” Roddey said.

RiverQuest hired Cosentino Consulting LLC to identify the type of merger or “strategic partnership” that could work best.

Meanwhile, the two nonprofits have some collaborative efforts in the works, such as sharing use of RiverQuest's boat to expand Rivers of Steel's tour offerings.

“It gives us another tool in our arsenal to market Pittsburgh,” Rivers of Steel CEO August Carlino said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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