Reflecting on 2023: A Year of Transformations and Impact

As we bid farewell to 2023, let’s take a moment to reflect on the remarkable journey we’ve had at the Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center at Penn State. From a historic renaming to groundbreaking research initiatives, student engagement programs, and vibrant community events, this year has been filled with noteworthy milestones that underscore our commitment to supporting sustainable and equitable communities. Join us as we revisit some of the unforgettable moments that defined our year.

Center Renaming

Dana Harris, Dok Harris, and Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi at the Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center ribbon ceremony

Undoubtedly, one of the most significant highlights of the year was the renaming of our center to the Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center at Penn State. The change pays homage to iconic Pittsburgh and Penn State legend Franco Harris, who was a champion of community engagement and education. The renaming was unveiled during an intimate dedication ceremony with Dana and Dok Harris, Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi, and several other distinguished guests at the Center, which now includes visual representation of Franco’s legacy. Learn more about this historic change and how it signifies our unwavering commitment to fostering positive change.

Student Engagement

Jacob Levendosky and two others stand at a Three Rivers Waterkeeper booth.

This past summer, we hosted the 9th semester of the City Semester Pittsburgh program, which provided six Penn State students with a unique blend of academic learning and practical experience. Through the EARTH 412 Urban Sustainability course and internship with an esteemed community partner, students in the program had the opportunity to not just learn about sustainability, but to live it. Read more about two of those students’ experiences: Jacob, who interned with Three Rivers Waterkeeper, and Kenneth, who worked with the City of Pittsburgh Planning Department.

Additionally this summer, we collaborated with South West College in Northern Ireland for the second year of the High-Performance Building Summer Program, which showcased the power of cross-cultural learning experiences. Students and instructors spent three weeks in Pittsburgh learning about sustainable building design through classroom discussions, field trips, and hands-on activities.

The Center also worked with several undergraduate studio classes in the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture and connected them to Pittsburgh communities for semester-long projects. For the 13th time, Ken Tamminga’s Pittsburgh Studio of landscape architecture students joined us to explore a Pittsburgh neighborhood and work directly with community members to propose solutions and plans. Read more about their time with the township of Coraopolis. The Center also worked with Professor Heather Ligler’s architecture studio class for their “Remix Row House” project. Students explored alternative considerations for the redevelopment of several vacant row houses in Homewood and the City of Pittsburgh and then made presentations to community leaders at the Carnegie Library of Homewood.

Coraopolis students

Faculty Research

The year saw plans for groundbreaking research from a team of researchers at Penn State and Carnegie Mellon University, joined by David Himes, sustainable communities manager at the Center. The group received a $937,000 National Science Foundation grant as part of the Civic Innovation Challenge, which is focused on using rapidly transitioning emerging technologies to address community challenges. This project, based in Pittsburgh, will explore the innovative use of fiber optic cables and machine learning to monitor ground hazards in the city, mostly due to aging infrastructure and climate change.

Industry Collaboration

A Landforce representative speaks to a group of people under a pavilion

Our commitment to sustainable practices extended to the local community with the continued offering of the National Green Infrastructure Certification Program (NGICP) and ongoing partnerships with organizations like Landforce. These initiatives, which are aimed at educating professionals and promoting workforce development in Pittsburgh, include classroom lectures and site visits. NGICP has trained more than 140 design professionals, contractors, and public works staff since 2018 and covers topics like site safety and management, bioretention, vegetation, hardscapes, rainwater harvesting, GI construction materials, permeable pavements, drywells, wetlands, and more.

Community Events

Two women sitting at a table reviewing a resume

Throughout the year, our connection to community engagement manifested in numerous events that brought together diverse audiences. From the second annual Sustainability Social to the first ever Pittsburgh Connect: Penn State Student Networking Summit, we actively contributed to building bridges and fostering collaboration within the community.

Attendees of the Sustainability Social this fall heard from speakers Lara Fowler (chief sustainability officer at Penn State and executive director of Penn State Sustainability), Heather Manzo (executive director of Allegheny County Conservation District), Ilyssa Manspeizer (executive director of Landforce), and Larry Terry (vice president for Penn State Outreach) about the importance of collaborating and using all our different resources for a common goal. Check out the inspirations and insights that came out of the event with Penn State leaders, local organizations and business partners, Penn State students, and alumni.

More than 60 Penn State students from several Penn State campuses joined us for Pittsburgh Connect in November, which focused on the power of networking and making connections. Attendees were able to connect with employers from nearly 20 businesses and organizations in the area, including Pittsburgh Pirates, Highmark Health and AHN, First National Bank, PJ Dick Trumbull, Northwestern Mutual, Sheetz, DICK’s Sporting Goods, and more.

Earlier in the year, we welcomed fellow Penn State Outreach unit Nittany AI Alliance to the Center for their AI Workshop: Empowering NGOs to Deliver Impact with Data-Driven Decisions. The Center helped to identify several local nonprofits that would benefit from the AI Readiness workshop, which provided attendees with an overview of how AI is being used for good and to identify roadmaps on how they can use it in the future.

Lara Fowler speaking in front of a group of people at the Energy Innovation Center

Looking Forward

As we conclude this year filled with achievements and meaningful collaborations, we look forward with enthusiasm to the opportunities that 2024 will bring. The Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center at Penn State remains steadfast in its commitment to community engagement and innovative solutions that contribute to the betterment of Pittsburgh and beyond.

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our journey this year, and we look forward to a 2024 full of growth, learning, and positive change!