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

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.

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 whether 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.

An increasing number of studies show that the more time people spend sitting, the more likely they are to develop heart disease, diabetes and other health problems. The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has received a $3 million grant to conduct a comprehensive study on the effects of sitting.

The list of individuals in Pennsylvania who must report suspected child abuse grew at the close of 2014 thanks to the state’s newly enacted child protection law and the University of Pittsburgh wants to help. 

Along with expanding the universe of those who must report, the law, which went into effect Dec. 31, 2014, also changes the way suspected abuse is reported. In reaction, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work began offering on-line training that lives up to the new mandates included in Act 31.

The Allegheny County Controller is hoping a little preventative legislative action could stave off a scandal like the one involving lewd emails sent among members of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and at least one State Supreme Court Justice. 

The measure being promoted by Controller Chelsa Wagner would create a zero-tolerance policy for any “misuse” of the county email system.

“When you look at the scandals that have really rocked Pennsylvania … I think there is a clear need,” Wagner said.

For years, heavy drinking was believed to be one of the main factors that led to pancreatitis, but after a 12-year study at the University of Pittsburgh, doctors have found a few genes that are the culprits in some cases.

Most heavy drinkers never pancreatitis, but many who don’t drink heavily are affected. The research found that genes determine if the pancreas will be susceptible to drinking, smoking and abnormal processes.

After nearly five years of incorrectly reporting water withdrawal rates, Range Resources will pay a $1.75 million settlement to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

All oil and gas companies are required to report the amount of water they use to the DEP, and it must be within a specified amount. During July 2009 until February 2014 Range was misreporting its numbers saying the company was not using as much as it was, and at times not reporting to the DEP at all.

Range approached the DEP with its mistakes and has since worked to fix them.

  The housing market made up for the rocky start for the Western Pennsylvania region in 2014, according to a year-end report.

West-Penn Multi-List, Inc. says the 13-county area’s home sale prices from January-December 2014 increased by 3 percent ($5,093) from the same period in 2013. New listings also increased by 1.5 percent (570 listings) this past year.

  People living closer to the equator have darker skin due to higher UV radiation, and this is passed down through generations of people having higher levels of melanin, but is the same true for flowers? Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say yes, but it’s not noticeable to the human eye.

“Pigmentation patterns getting darker towards lower latitudes is ... an ecological rule called ‘Gloger’s Rule’, and it’s been formulated towards animals, so this is kind of the first extension of this ecological rule to plants,” said researcher and grad student Matt Koski.

For the seventh consecutive year Pennsylvania turnpike tolls will increase on Jan. 4.

The 5 percent increase affects both EZPass users and cash payers, but the EZPass will still save customers about 35 percent. Right now a person traveling from Pittsburgh (Monroeville) to Breezewood pays $8.97 with an EZPass or $12.60 with cash, and these prices will rise to $9.42 and $13.23 respectively.

New Year’s resolutions are often hard to stick with, and by February many forget about their resolution altogether. One of the most popular resolutions each year is to lose weight.

If you actually want to shed some of the weight added during the holidays, holistic health coach Emily Levenson suggests setting goals rather than resolutions.

Wednesday night marks the end of one year and the start of a New Year and downtown Pittsburgh will be celebrating with the annual First Night.

The event will start at 6 p.m. with a performance from the funk sax group Beauty Slap, fireworks and much more.

“The great thing about Highmark First Night Pittsburgh is the fact that there is so much diversity," said Ken McCrory, chair of the First Night Board. "I mean dance, music, comedy, magicians, fireworks. You name it, and we have it at First Night Pittsburgh.”

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Every year doctors encourage nearly everyone to get a flu shot, but this year the vaccine is less effective and the strain going around is more deadly.

That's leading doctors to be even more vocal when it comes to encouraging people to get the vaccine.

 Giving to children this holiday season is not just limited to finding another Lego set; instead you can invest in a child’s future by setting up a college savings fund for them.

The Pennsylvania State Treasury is offering a way to save for college through tax-deductible investments, the 529 Plan. Through the month of December the treasury is also waiving the $50 enrollment fee.

  Travel is cheaper this year, with gas prices and plane tickets being less expensive than they have been in recent years, and this has led to AAA project a record breaking travel season.

“Well this year our holiday travel volume nationally and regionally broke all records, and we’ve been keeping track of this since 2001. So for the yearend holidays, which is Christmas and New Year’s, there’s going to be more people on the road than ever,” said Spokeswoman for AAA, Chelsea Pompeani.

Marcus Charleston / WESA

Gingerbread houses are part of what makes Christmas delicious and special, and this year the gingerbread game has been stepped up at the Grand Concourse with a tiny Pittsburgh village.

The display features the Duquesne Incline, the Smithfield Bridge, Heinz Field, the three rivers and many more miniature replicas.

“We wanted to do something different this year, and actually started planning it way back in January, after last year’s holidays, and [we] just started planning it out and about three months ago to really work on it and build it,” said Grand Concourse General Manager Milo Boering.

Executive Chef, Loren Halperin says they must have used about 50-60lbs. of gingerbread dough. Then after baking the dough in September the chefs had to let it completely dry out, which took about a month. Then in early November they began construction.

Commissioners of Somerset County have agreed to use drilling revenue to match any public donations to save Lake Somerset.

The lake has one of 12 “high hazard dams” in the state. The county is trying to save the dam to save the lake. The 253 acre lake’s water level has already been lowered by 6 feet to take pressure off the dam.

The county is also trying to make the land around the lake into a community park. It just has to wait for the Fish and Boat Commission to approve the plans, which Commissioner John Vatavuk thinks is very likely.