Jess Lasky

News Fellow

Jess was accepted as a WESA fellow in the news department in January 2014.  The Erie, PA native attends Duquesne University where she has a double major--broadcast journalism and political science.  Following her anticipated graduation in May 2015, she plans to enter law school or begin a career in broadcast journalism.

Fun fact:  "I own all the Pokemon GameBoy games...and still play them!"

Ways To Connect

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

The oldest park in Pittsburgh is getting a facelift. A section of Allegheny Commons around a popular Northside fountain will be rebuilt this summer.

The Allegheny Commons Initiative is a volunteer group, that up until recently was handling most park matters. The group wanted to undergo a multimillion dollar project that would restore the park to its heyday, but was met with some funding challenges.

So the Initiative partnered with Northside Leadership Conference, and with the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy.

A recent survey by Erie Insurance found that drivers are doing everything from playing the guitar to public displays of affection while driving.

The survey asked about 1,900 people what kind of distractions they found other drivers doing, and what behaviors they were engaging in themselves.

Saturday is the national opening day for trails, and even though the Three Rivers Heritage Trail stays open year round, the Friends of the Riverfront will be out planting trees to get the trail ready for heavy traffic.

The opening day also corresponds with the release of a survey conducted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to evaluate users and economic impact. It found that the Three Rivers Trail has one of the greatest numbers of yearly visits and has among the highest economic impact of the trails surveyed by Rails-to-Trails. The group, which advocates for turning old train rails into trails, has done about 14 economic impact and user surveys, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

  Despite Wednesday’s rain and a harsh winter the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental (DEP) has placed 27 counties on a drought watch for low levels of groundwater.

“Fortunately we have had a significant amount of snowmelt. That does help, but specifically we’re dealing with low groundwater levels, and groundwater takes a little bit more time to recharge then say surface water would,” said DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

When Gov. Tom Wolf was campaigning, he said if elected he would place a severance tax on Marcellus shale gas in the commonwealth, and now he’s moving forward on a plan to do just that. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, however, doesn’t agree with some changes.

Via: Justdrivepa.com

In the past five years, 128 people have lost their lives in work zone crashes, and PennDOT’s “#Slow4Zone” campaign hopes to put a face to road workers to prevent more lost lives.

The campaign starts during National Work Zone Awareness Week from March 23-27. During the week PennDOT will be posting stories on their Facebook and Twitter pages of workers who have been a victim of or seen work zone crashes.

Via: Happyacts.org

The weather is warming up, and maybe your demeanor is too. After a long harsh winter, this Friday brings the first day of spring and also the International Day of Happiness.

Three years ago the United Nations declared March 20 a day of happiness.

Mayor Bill Peduto recently traveled to DC for the National League of Cities and while there, he had a chance to meet with the President for two minutes. The Mayor told 90.5 WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh Host, Paul Guggenheimer, he wanted to make those minutes count, so he brought up two ideas for the city: autonomous cars, and localized energy.

Peduto told the President that Pittsburgh is the city for the autonomous car. With CMU’s research facilities, Uber’s dedication to developing the car, and Bombardier’s vehicle plant, Pittsburgh is the place to develop the technology.

If you’re one of the 230,000 people that use public transit daily, consider thanking your driver Wednesday for National Transit Worker Appreciation Day.

This national day is being celebrated for the first time in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) is hoping that all 2,000 workers feel appreciated. The group will distribute cards with “Because you rock, I roll” and “Thanks for keeping us moving”, from 12-1 and 3-5 at the Wood Street T Station, and at Forbes and Bigalow in Oakland. Passengers can sign the cards and give them to workers just to show their thanks.

The relatively new product Palcohol, or powdered alcohol, has many concerned with its safety, including a Pennsylvania state senator who is looking to have the intoxicant banned.

Sen. Shirley Kitchen echoes the concerns of many that this product will lead to more problems with teen drinking. They believe the product would be easier to conceal and transport. Also some are concerned drinks could be spiked with the power, making them much stronger than intended.

There are laws in Pennsylvanians making it illegal to discriminate against someone for a wide array of reasons, from sex to ancestry, but the LGBT community remains unprotected.

A senate bill that will be introduced by Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) could change that.

“Right now Pennsylvania is one of few states where discrimination is legal based solely upon who you love, and many of us on both sides of the aisle are ready to put an end to this,” said Farnese.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A new proposal from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) strengthens regulations on the oil and gas industry, while attempting to increase transparency and protect the general public.

“The release of today’s draft update to the commonwealth’s Oil and Gas regulations  in my view represents a great step forward for responsible drilling in Pennsylvania, and my definition of responsible drilling is protecting public health and the environment, while enabling drilling to proceed,” said Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley.

Even 23 inches of snow in 1993 was not enough to stop the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so organizers this year are hoping for a great turnout with the spring-like weather being predicted for Saturday. 

The March 14 parade is expected to include 23,000 participants, making it the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S.

The parade, which steps off at 10 a.m., will feature more than 200 units, including high school bands, bagpipers, drum corps, Irish dancers, Irish entertainers and groups of Irish organizations from throughout the region.  

Creative Commons Flickr User: B.

According to the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS),  hundreds of lives could be saved if Pennsylvania strengthened its driving laws. The comments are part of the “Lethal Loopholes” report.

“We selected 15 of the most important highway safety laws… based on research that has proven that each one of these laws saves lives and prevents injuries on the road,” said Cathy Chase, vice president of governmental affairs.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA) monthly bills for January and February confused many with an “estimate bill” as a result of a new system that cannot read the old meters.

About 3,500 customers’ meters are now outdated, and as a result the meter could not be read electronically as newer models are.  So instead of a regular bill, the PWSA sent out estimates based on past bills.  

FracTracker

A new report shows that about 4 million Pennsylvanians live within a half mile evacuation zone in case of a train derailment.

The report comes from PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, an environmental advocacy group, and FracTracker Alliance, which makes maps and analyzes data from the oil and gas industries.

Motorists who use the I-376 Carnegie Interchange Ramps will soon have to kiss that exit goodbye until December. Starting Monday at 10 p.m. PennDOT will close the exit to begin work on three structurally deficient bridges.

“Overnight when they do the closure there will be …impacts on traffic, but after the interchange is completely closed and all lanes of traffic are restored we’ll actually improve traffic flow in that area,” said PennDOT District Executive Dan Cessna.  

Wilsonious / flickr

To help comply with a consent order to reduce sewer overflows in the Pittsburgh region, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is offering grants to encouraging home and business owners to install rainwater conservation projects.

JMR_Photography / flickr

A proposal to sell off most of Pennsylvania's state-owned liquor system and its wholesale distribution network moved ahead with a vote on the Legislature on Monday, although its prospects to become law remain uncertain.

The state House Liquor Control Committee voted 15-to-10 to advance a Republican-backed proposal that was very similar to a bill that passed the House but stalled in Senate during the last legislative session.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Carnegie Mellon University are joining forces to celebrate the humanities in March.

Smart Talk about Stuff that Matters is a humanities festival with a broad definition of humanities—knowledge of humankind and its works. The event will include speakers presenting ideas on everything from art, literature, and music, to science, and politics. 

Kids in the Pittsburgh area have a chance to learn game design skills, and then compete nationally.

On Saturday National STEM Video Game Challenge is hosting a hands-on workshop with game industry professionals at The Ellis School to teach youth how to design video games.

Department of Agriculture via Flickr Creative Commons

Pittsburgh is known to have great restaurants all over, but at the end of the night an estimated 40 percent of fresh food is thrown out that could have gone to local food banks.

UpPrize is a new challenge in the Pittsburgh area which combines nonprofits' daily problems with the innovation of local entrepreneurs and a chance to win up to $1 million.  

The Comcast Foundation has awarded $617,000 to 30 nonprofits in Pennsylvania for promoting volunteerism and service, expanding digital literacy and building tomorrow’s leaders.

About half of the companies awarded were located in Pittsburgh. The biggest grant, $150,000 went to the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Other companies awarded included various Big Brother Big Sisters chapters, Boys and Girls Clubs chapters, Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania, and the Japan-American Society of Pennsylvania.

The PA 529 College Savings program has reported that 2014 was its best year with record breaking number of accounts, amounts contributed and total assets.

“The fund has done extremely well, the Treasury has done a really tremendous job managing these investments, but it’s also due to the increase in program participation,” said Carrie Lepore, community and outreach director for PA 529.

The number of accounts grew 6.2 percent from 2013. People contributed $447.3 million in 2014 — 6 percent more than was saved in 2013.

Encouraging people  to lose weight has been a challenge in the health care field, but a new study focused on middle aged women showed that having a physician's assistance and guidance in getting fit had better outcomes than going at it alone.

Jess Lasky / 90.5 WESA

In honor of National Wear Red Day, UPMC offered screenings for the nation's number one killer: heart disease. 

For the past 5 years UPMC has been screening people’s risk for heart disease for free through their Community Outreach and Cardio Vascular Health (COACH) program.

At a Friday screening in downtown Pittsburgh, COACH used a fallen piano to highlight that while your chances of being crushed by a piano are one in 250 million, the chances of dying from heart disease is one in three.

Owners of small- and medium-sized businesses gathered Wednesday to talk about how the Pittsburgh area economy could change in 2015 and not everyone is optimistic.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence hosted the event that included: Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, PNC Chairman Bill Demchack, and PNC Vice President Augustine Faucher. Overall they predicted that the local economy will fall behind the national economy in 2015.

  Community colleges statewide have standardized their way to assess prior work and experience for college credits through Credit Fast Track.

The new system allows all 14 community colleges in the state to access the same website where students can apply for the program. After applying students will work with a faculty member in the area to review what work was done, and see if it applies to a course through a portfolio of their work. 

CO2 emissions accounted for 82 percent of all U.S. human greenhouse gases in 2012, and with renewable fuels becoming more and more popular researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have asked how to dispose of CO2, and maybe make it into a renewable fuel.

Past efforts to convert CO2 consumed more fuel than they produced according to John Keith, an R.K. Mellon faculty fellow in energy.

A surprise $20 million was bequeathed to the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, making it the largest gift the 220-year-old school has ever received.  

The gift was given by Robert Thomson a lifelong Pittsburgher and Presbyterian. Thomson owned Thomson & Sproull Insurance.

“He and I had lunch 4-5 times a year every year, and I never knew wither or not we were in his will, until he died this past fall, and we got the good news. So it’s a big surprise and we were very very pleased to hear the news,” said Willian J. Carl III, president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Pages