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Sci-Tech's first graduation of 'pioneers' shows promise of new job market

| Saturday, June 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
(Left to right) Erica Follette, 15, from Morningside, Stefan Nita, 15, from Oakland, and Sam Carlin, 15, from East Liberty discuss their Rube Goldberg Machine during their Big Ideas in Science class at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. A Rube Goldberg machine is built in a complicated way but completes a simple task in a number of steps.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
(Left to right) Jaylin Banks, 15, from East Liberty, Saigion Simpson, 14, from the North Side, and Quinton Kimes, 16, from Garfield work on their Rube Goldberg machine during Big Ideas in Science class at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. A Rube Goldberg machine is built in a complicated way but completes a simple task in a number of steps.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Saigion Simpson, 15, from the North Side, adjusts pieces of the Rube Goldberg Machine during Big Ideas in Science class on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland. A Rube Goldberg machine is built in a complicated way but completes a simple task in a number of steps.

Quinton Kimes enrolled at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland with the goal of becoming a physical therapist or fitness trainer.

“Science is in everything I can use,” said freshman Kimes, 16, of Garfield.

Sci-Tech, as the academy is commonly known, graduates its first class of 56 seniors on Saturday.

Simpson said he hopes to join them someday.

“These are the pioneers,” said Robert Scherrer, principal of Sci-Tech. “These are the students who took a chance to do something unique and innovative.”

Sci-Tech has a STEM curriculum — an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The emergence of STEM is a response to a changing job market and economy, said Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution, a liberal policy group in Washington, who has studied STEM education nationwide.

“We need workers with knowledge in these fields to innovate, create new businesses and industries and products that will create general prosperity,” he said.

Pittsburgh ranks 31st among the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas in its share of jobs that require STEM knowledge, according to Rothwell's research.

This week the Benedum and Grable foundations awarded $500,000 to 25 school districts in Western Pennsylvania to improve STEM education. On Tuesday, The Heinz Endowments announced a $930,637 grant to expand Advanced Placement classes in such areas as math and science in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Rothwell said the United States ranks 24th among 34 developed nations in its percentage of STEM graduates ages 20 to 24. It is 29th on a list of 65 countries for international math and science test scores for 15-year-olds.

“The high end is not the problem,” Rothwell said, citing America's research universities. “The problem is we've neglected and historically suppressed the education of large groups of people.”

No one at the conservative policy group The Heritage Foundation could be reached to comment. The group says in a position paper that policymakers should concentrate on training teachers in STEM courses, linking their pay to their performance and offering parents better school choices, among such moves.Locally, education leaders are trying to determine what they should do to expand STEM studies, said Cynthia Pulkowski, executive director of ASSET STEM Education.

A South Side-based nonprofit group, ASSET helps more than 100 school districts, charter and private schools and education groups by training teachers and providing classroom materials.

Norwin School District plans to add eight STEM courses and about a dozen related activities in two to three years. Baldwin-Whitehall School District is exploring how it can better link students to emerging jobs in the energy field as a result of natural-gas drilling.

Rothwell said the average STEM-related job in the Pittsburgh area pays $27,000 a year more than one that does not require such skills.

Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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