90.5 WESA Features and Special Reports

The Ellis School

In the year 2113, a city in the Katmandu Valley of Nepal will be surrounded by an earthquake mitigation system and crisscrossed by underground pneumatic tubes that will zip solid waste right out of your house. 

At least that is what a group of seventh and eighth graders at The Ellis School in Pittsburgh will be presenting next week at the national Future City competition.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

About 80 percent of the work done at Pittsburgh’s senior center on the South Side is done by volunteers. And lately, much of it has been done by one man: Charlie Mathews.

“To have Charlie here as a person that is just willing to help and is really good with people is very crucial to what we do,” said Sarah Johnston, director of the South Side Market House.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A soldier in the field with little or no technical training could fix a piece of high-tech weaponry, seniors might use a complex health monitoring device and a newlywed couple can be coached through complicated IKEA instructions, all without the help of another human. 

Researchers at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science are using wearable technologies like Google Glass to place an "angel" on a user's shoulder to do those types of tasks.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA

There are about 150,000 men and women serving in the U.S. military overseas, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center. 

Some of them regularly receive care packages from people they have never met, through programs like Soldiers’ Angels and Chaplains Wings.

Mary Jo Magoc has been sending care packages and cards through those programs since 2009.  She began with individual soldiers through Soldiers’ Angels, where she “adopted” four members of the military deployed overseas. She keeps in touch with three of them, even though they have returned home. Among them is Chris Samuel. 

Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

A University of Pittsburgh student will make her debut tonight on Jeopardy's  college edition.

90.5 WESA's Sarah Kovash talked to senior chemisty and computer science major Sarah Dubnik, a life-long Jeopardy fan, about her experience being on the show.

WESA: So what was it like getting to meet Alex Trebek for the first time?

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A Pittsburgh-based company is aiming to make the fracking process safer for the environment with an innovative approach to water purification, by reducing the need to transport contaminated water and byproducts from drill sites.

In parts of Washington and Greene counties, residents in rural areas often hear the rumble of trucks traveling to and from fracking sites. Many of the trucks are used to haul water, which is an important element in the process.

Gordon Craig, of Epiphany Water Solutions, recently took WESA on a tour of an active well pad about 1 mile off of Interstate 79. The well is owned by Rice Energy, one of the companies now using Epiphany's new water purification systems.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Every other Monday night, the basement of the Jefferson Avenue Methodist Church in Washington, Pa. is turned into a soup kitchen and a doctor's office. It’s called the “WeCare Street Outreach,” and it's run by Dr. Monica Speicher.

University of Essex / Flickr

About three years ago, Laura Offutt was between medical consulting projects and looking for something new to try. Around the same time, she noticed that her teenage children and their friends were not happy with the way health information was being presented in school. 

Additionally, Offutt said the teens seemed to have picked up bad information while attempting to fill in the gaps in knowledge from their school presentations. That’s how she started a teen health blog, now a website, called Real Talk with Dr. Offutt.

Ryan Loew / PublicSource

    

The street where Carol Speaks grew up is only blocks from where her grandson Antwann died.

At 19 years old, he was shot 17 times, according to Carol, in front of witnesses just down the street from Homewood’s Westinghouse Academy.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

It’s not much bigger than a laptop and a set of ski goggles, but workers at Neuro Kinetics, located in O’Hara Township’s RIDC Park, said they’ve created technology that will help diagnose concussions.

It's called the I-Portal, and it's awaiting FDA approval. 

“This is not quite what Star Trek envisioned, because that is a little bit more smaller, easier, portable, but on the right sort of path,” said Howison Schroeder, president and CEO of Neuro Kinetics.

Ryan Loew / PublicSource

  Monica Hawkins can still laugh at her son Donté’s sense of humor as she replays it nearly four years later on YouTube. And she can smile at the uncanny resemblance her grandson Jaiden has to his dad. The same smile. The same mischievous energy.

But fresh tears come when she recounts the night Donté died at age 20, the helplessness she felt at the scene, and the hole his loss leaves in their family.

App Connects Homeless Youth With Services

Jan 13, 2016
r.nial bradshaw / flickr

 

A new app, in development, could connect homeless youth with services ranging from mental health care to a meal.

 

The Homeless Children’s Education Fund worked with Bob Firth, founder of Informing Design, to create the Big Burgh Homeless Services app. Pulling out his iPhone, Firth shows how a prototype works.

 

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Some people dream of buying an island, finally paying off their student loans or getting a fancy car. If James Helterbran of Sheraden wins the Powerball, he's taking care of mom.

Harrisburg Pulls Police From NRA Show Security Detail

Jan 10, 2016
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

 

The Great American Outdoor Show's brought tens of millions of tourism dollars to the Capitol region for 25 years.

It's also sponsored by the NRA.

This February, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse says police won't provide security inside the Farm Show Complex, as is customary.

Papenfuse says his decision is tied to the NRA's support of the state law that made it easier to sue Pennsylvania cities over their firearms ordinances. 

Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The murals in the United States Post Office and Courthouse on Grant Street are pretty hard to get to. There’s security, now, unlike when the Department of Treasury’s Section of Painting and Sculpture commissioned the three works in 1934.

Two of the octogenerian paintings survive on the 8th floor; one disappeared. That’s the thing about murals, said Sylvia Rhor, associate professor of art history at Carlow University. They’re large, but they’re not immune to time’s vagaries. They can go missing, be discarded or painted over.

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

From the back of Barry Grossman's house, you get a panoramic view of Lake Erie: miles and miles of uninterrupted lake, anchored on one side by the popular Presque Isle State Park. And in the distance, a large ship making its way slowly across the lake. 

"Last two days, I've seen four major lake liners go by," said Grossman, the former Erie County executive. "Usually you don't see them this time of year."

Grossman hopes that means industry is starting to pick up around the lake again. But he worries Erie's workforce won't be ready for a big turnaround.

Chancelor Humphrey

The rapper Mars Jackson grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. He’s been performing for about six years and said he wants people to know about the dynamic artists who make up Pittsburgh’s rap and hip hop scene.

Jackson says many wrongly believe that Pittsburgh’s pool of talent begins and ends with superstars Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. Jackson stopped by the station to talk to Larkin Page-Jacobs about the music he creates to address real life issues.

 

'Scrubba' Designed To Clean Large Buildings, Like Giant Roomba

Jan 5, 2016
Jennifer Szweda Jordan / 90.5 WESA

Small, autonomous, robotic vacuums like Roomba, Botvac and others revolutionized tidying for the average at-home cleaner. Four inventors in Oakland want to do the same with an industrial-scale robotic janitor built to sweep and mop big spaces like malls and airports.

On a recent evening, Discovery Robotics’ inventors gave the boxy, blue, metal prototype a trial run as engineer Naman Kumar looked on. In his hand was a remote garage door opener programmed to start or stop "Scrubba" and its 300-pound heft.

As Senior Centers Dwindle, Virtual Options Become Reality

Jan 4, 2016
Selfhelp Community Services / 90.5 WESA

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation allocated $240,000 over the next two years to bring a Virtual Senior Center to Pittsburgh through a computer-based program expected to teach live interactive history classes, gin rummy games, yoga and more.

The center will help seniors learn, build their social networks and have fun through technology, especially as the volume of traditional centers continue to decline, said foundation COO/Chief Program Officer Nancy Zionts.

Kim Paynter / WHYY/Newsworks.org

 

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D) plans to investigate how local governments are spending the millions of dollars they’ve received from gas drilling impact fees.

Fighting An Airplane's Natural Enemy: Ice

Dec 23, 2015
Jennifer Szweda Jordan / 90.5 WESA

A Canonsburg-based company’s superfast computer simulations are helping airplane designers learn about something that the rest of us might not want to think about: how ice forms on airplane wings and engines.

Once an airplane takes off, it soars into hard-to-predict natural elements. One of the most dangerous of those elements is ice. A technology stalwart in the region called ANSYS is addressing this problem.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

At Kutztown University, a lot of students live near campus.

But not Shannon Peitzer.

She's a senior. And every morning she spends at least half an hour driving to school from her apartment.

Kaufmann's Department Store Records and Photographs / Rauh Jewish Archives / Detre Library and Archives / Senator John Heinz History Center

“There’s Florence and London and Paris and Prague and Brussels.”

Lina Insana, chair of the department of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh, points to a spread from the Kaufmann's department store’s in-house magazine, Storagram, which proclaims the 30th anniversary of the “Foreign Office.”  

“They used these foreign offices as proof of the quality of their merchandise—how up to date that merchandise was, how up to the minute the styles were,” Insana said.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

When students Bishal Rai, Arpun Khadka and Gabriel Sahij walk into Concord Elementary School in Carrick, a welcome sign greets them in English, Spanish and Nepali. 

Appalasia

AppalAsia is one of those artistic ventures which, seemingly, could only happen in Pittsburgh. The musical blend of Appalachian and ancient Chinese folk music stems from three artists with very different musical backgrounds. 

Mimi Jong plays the erhu, a two-stringed, bowed instrument that has been a part of Chinese folk music for a millennium.

Lehigh Valley Ponders Welcoming More Syrian Refugees

Dec 17, 2015
Laura Benshoff / WHYY

Farouk leans forward at the interview table, hands clasped. The question, what do you miss in Syria, gets a one word answer.

"Everything," he said.

Farouk -- not his real name -- doesn't want to be identified for fear of retribution back in Syria.

What's Changed In The Refugee Resettlement Hub Of Lancaster

Dec 16, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Farhan Al Qadri was doing well for himself, running a warehousing business that took him three decades to build. It kept him on the road and away from his wife and children at times. But it also afforded them a 20-room house with a courtyard in the middle, and plenty of land  — including a small farm — just outside the Syrian village of Daraa.

Did he consider himself wealthy?

"It was very excellent," he says, nodding. "But now, I have zero."

CMU's RoboTutor To Teach Where Resources Are Sparse

Dec 15, 2015
Jennifer Szweda Jordan / 90.5 WESA

In many developing countries, teachers and classrooms are scarce.

In the poor rural village of Mugeta in Tanzania, Joash Gambarage grew up surrounded by children without access to education. While he’s moved on to graduate studies at the University of British Columbia, the picture in Mugeta hasn’t changed much. That’s why Gambarage founded a school that now has about 50 students.

“The kids were just staying home with their parents or with their grandparents selling eggs and stuff on the streets,” Gambarage said of his students.

Mike Mozart / Flickr

    

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is a national organization that advocates on behalf of restaurant workers, and Pittsburgh is home to one of its chapters. In this episode of On The House, Larkin Page-Jacobs talks to organizer Jordan Romanus and server Heather Freeman about the change they hope to see in the industry.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA News

 

North Allegheny High School sophomore Mason Blackburn wanted Alex the Lion to escape the zoo, but it wasn't that simple.

The team hit a few roadblocks along the way, he said. Levers overcomplicated the motions, so they tried a simpler pulley system. It took a lot of trial and error, Blackburn said.

"We certainly learned a lot," he said. "We had several of these swinging hooks and each hook would transfer energy to the next hook. Eventually that was too complicated."

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