Caruso Heating

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 6.09.06 PM.png

Originally Published through The Reader’s Choice – Southwest Edition

Caruso Heating was founded over two decades ago and continues to be a family-owned business at 98 McNeilly Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15226. They earned the 2017 Reader’s Choice Southwest Silver award for Best Heating and Air Conditioning.

Caruso heating has been owned by Tony Caruso for the past 25 years. According to him, their services include heating and air conditioning, air quality and humification products. They offer affordable pricing on HVAC units and installation, which includes making their prices fit within your budget.

Caruso discussed how his business follows old school values. The company is dedicated to 100% customer satisfaction. He wants his customers to know that he will tailor their services to fit within the boundaries of their budget.

“We treat and deal with every one of our customer’s on an individual basis. We try to do the job right on the first time around. We try to meet and adjust to customer’s needs on heating and cooling,” Caruso said.

The technicians that work for Caruso are NATE-certified which means that installations will be done right. They rate high with the A+ Better Business Bureau and their workers are NATE-Certified technicians.

They are currently looking to hire HVAC Field Service Technicians. If you are interested in the position, you can call 412-882-6080.

Caruso Heating offers a variety of deals on their HVAC services, including 36-months of no-interest financing and saving up to $1650 in instant rebates.

In response to what customers should know about their services, Caruso said “We are committed to integrity, customer support and product quality.”

They guarantee that customers will be satisfied with their work on the first installation.

When asked about what Caruso believes is unique about his business, he said “We treat the customer’s house and property like it’s our house. We take the same amount of care as if we are working on our own house.”

Railyard Grill and Tap Room

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 6.09.20 PM.png

Originally Published through The Reader’s Choice – Southwest Edition

Railyard Grill and Tap Room, opened in October of 2016, and is known as a New American Craft Cuisine to loyal workers and customers. They are located at 413 Railroad Street in Bridgeville, PA.

“Our goal is to put Bridgeville on the map with quality of food. You don’t have to go downtown to experience a vast beer selection and elevated food selection. We are trying to bring that downtown feel to the South Hills,” said general manager Jeremy Rob.

Railyard and Tap Room has 50 rotating taps along with locally sourced food. They carry drinks from all over the world, but they focus their taps on local Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania beers, ciders and meads. They won two Reader’s Choice awards including a Gold award for Sports Bar and Silver Award for New Restaurant, both in Southwest.

As for their food, Rob said that “Railyard Grill and Tap Room is unique because we source all our beef, pork, all the stuff we get from local farms. It is all local grass-fed and cruelty free. The fish we sell can be swimming around the warm pacific ocean waters of Hawaii one day and in our kitchen 24 hours later.”

The food found at Railyard is homemade or sourced from other nearby businesses. They like to try different dishes at the restaurant but some of their speciality food includes local grass-fed steaks and burgers and craft-beer infused wing sauces.

“Being a new business in the area, we try to partner with other local businesses. Like we use a salad dressing from a place up the street. We are trying to grow the businesses of our partners that we team up with,” said Rob.

In doing this, Railyard is hoping to increase the impact of sustainability in ingredients and food. They make sure that they are creating an environment that helps to build the communication and execution of these ideas while giving people a place to enjoy their food.

On top of the normal dining experience, Railyard also offers a large space to host events and they include a full-banquet menu. They also host a trivia night once a month.

“It’s a neighborhood gathering place where you can get elevated food and a vast beer selection in an environment where the staff is friendly and knowledgable and where people like to keep coming back,” said Rob.

You can find them on Facebook as Railyard Grill and Tap Room and on Instagram @RailyardTap. They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Cenacolo

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 6.13.38 PM.png

Originally Published through The Reader’s Choice – Westmoreland Edition

Cenacolo Restaurant started as a small pasta business in Steve and Jen Salvi’s basement. They began selling pasta to Pittsburgh restaurants in 2005 and eventually the business grew into Cenacolo in 2013.

Cenacolo’s is located at 1061 Main Street in North Huntingdon, Pa 15642.  It seats over 120 people and provides a full bar to customers.

“Being in an industrial park, I like when people enter the restaurant for the first time and are taken back by the design of the restaurant” said Steve Salvi in response to what he liked the most about his restaurant.

The pasta they serve is made by them with Italy-imported machines and some of the speciality dishes include tagliolini with crab meat and ricotta gnocchi with short rib ragu.

When asked to describe his restaurant’s services, Steve Salvi said “We are strictly a fresh pasta restaurant.  It is a dining experience that should not be rushed.  From the olives to the lemoncello, it is time to sit back and relax.”

The dining experience he discusses takes about two hours and his food is only a part of it. He believes that the company people bring and his food together create a great time for his customers.

Cenacolo won three awards from Reader’s Choice, including Gold for Ethnic food and Bronze for Romantic Restaurant in Westmoreland  and Bronze for Restaurant in North Huntingdon.

“We are very grateful for the rewards given, but the only rewards we strive for are the smiles at the tables” said Steve Salvi. “I would like our customers to know how grateful we are for their support. To know that we will always strive to give you the best in food, service and experience.

The restaurant also offers pasta classes once a month, sometimes more. You can make Cenacolo favorites and then enjoy them afterwards. To reserve a spot, call 724-515-5983.

“I welcome anyone who is looking for a great pasta meal. It is a dining experience that when you are finished, you feel that it was the best meal you have had in a long time, you feel refreshed and cannot wait to come back and bring your family and friends” said Steve Salvi.

Cenacolo is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m, Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday they have brunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. You can make reservations by calling 724-515-5983.

 

Trib Reader’s Choice “Advertorials”

During March of 2017, Autumn had the opportunity to write “advertorials” for the Trib Total Media Reader’s Choice. She wrote about Cenacolo’s in the Westmoreland edition and about Caruso’s Heating and Railyard Grill and Tap Room in the Southwest edition. To prepare for these pieces, she conducted short interviews with the owners and did research about the businesses on their respective website

The complexities of feeling safe

It’s more than using your common sense

By: Autumn Barszczowski

If I had written this piece one week earlier, I would have focused on how paying attention to my surroundings in downtown is what makes me feel safe at Point Park.

It would have been about how people do not always pay attention like they should because they do not look up from their phones or they listen to their music too loudly.

However, on March 6, the body of Dakota James was found in the Ohio River. From that moment on, my idea of safety was turned upside down and lost amongst the unknown facts of this case.

It was no longer just about paying attention and being able to save myself by controlling my own actions. After a case so close to home leaves more questions than answers, it is hard to prepare yourself to face the day as you usually do.

I have been going Downtown for school since I was 14 years old. That means the coming fall semester marks the beginning of my sixth year as a commuter student. I thought I knew a lot more than most about staying safe in the city.

In fact, the moment my family knew I would be in Downtown Pittsburgh, they began lecturing me on the importance of always keeping my head up and surveying my surroundings. In doing this, they often talked about the situations that everyone fears, including the one that James’ family has been facing since his disappearance.

Up until this point, I thought that being aware of my surroundings was enough. That if I stayed alert and used my “common sense” by never traveling alone or not going home on the bus after a certain time, I would be fine. Surveying my surroundings was supposed to be enough to keep me safe on my way to classes.

Clearly, this is not the case. There are tragedies that can happen no matter how much you look around or how many precautionary steps you take to protect yourself. We cannot control the actions of others simply by controlling our awareness of those people.

Paying attention does not save us from everything. It can help us in small situations like avoiding traffic when crossing the street and staying away from that one student you just cannot stand, but not all situations are that simple.

I feel for the James family and the loss they are enduring. I can’t tell you how future situations like this will pan-out or my ideas on what should happen in terms of safety of going forward. These scenarios are complicated and the solutions will probably not be simple.

All I can tell you is that I hope the family and friends of Dakota James can heal from this loss and that the city can continue to work on creating the best solution for us. It will not come easily, but I hope that with some effort we can grow to make our home a safer place.

Originally published in the Globe

The flaws of American nationalism

Citizens can’t ignore our nation’s past

By: Autumn Barszczowski

When you grow up in the United States, especially after 2001, you are bombarded by American flags and overly-patriotic songs, encouraging you to sing about how you’re obviously proud to be an American.

Well, here it goes: I am not proud to be an American. Or at least, I am not proud of what the reality of being an American means today.

Let me explain. On paper, the United States is meant to be all about freedom for all people, but in translation from paper to reality, we have somehow forgotten the rights that this nation was built on. In the past few weeks, we have taken a step backwards for transgender rights, freedom of the press and have taken a step closer to the nationalism that I fear.

This nationalism I speak of is this idea that the United States is the best country in the world. That this country is the greatest, can do no wrong and is always the winner. In the past few years, the nationalism that I witness the most, is a blind love for a country whose flaws people refuse to recognize.

The more I learn about the United States, the more I realize how willing we are to cover up the dark spots in our history.

I did not learn until 10th grade about the treatment that was received by Vietnam soldiers after they returned from a war that many were forced to fight. It wasn’t until 11th grade that I learned about the amount of indigenous people that were enslaved or killed by Christopher Columbus, our national hero. It took me until high school to see that our history is not as squeaky clean as I once thought.

I have learned that growing up in this country after 9/11 meant that I would continue to be taught this clean history, expected to stand for the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, even when I didn’t agree with the words and that I would keep my mouth shut about the glaring flaws of our country.

I cannot let myself stand by and watch as these groups of people who cannot see the hatred that is brewing at the core of their nationalism. The hatred that is taking away rights that people have just gained. The hatred that has taken away the voices of the people who continue to be oppressed in this country.

I can’t be proud of a country that says that all men are equal, but only means that all white men are equal. That being a woman, or being black, LGBT, Muslim, Mexican, disabled or anything outside of the realm of the “perfect American” means that your concerns will not be heard.

That instead, you’ll watch as your media becomes “fake news” for millions of people just because the president says so. That you’ll watch as your rights continue to be dismantled before you and that everything that has been gained in the past eight years continues to crumble.

America is meant to be for all people. I cannot find myself being proud to call myself a citizen of this nation until we truly take into account the writing that our country was built on and work on making that written freedom into a reality for everyone.

One day, I think that I could be proud of our country. The numerous protests that have happened in Pittsburgh alone have given me faith that we can restore what has been damaged. Maybe not for a long time but, eventually, it could happen.

So I’ll keep my faith in those people who continue to fight back and until then, I’ll stand my ground about why I cannot be proud of this country until it recognizes its flaws and finds a way to improve them.

Originally published in The Globe

Ranking important issues in your life

It’s all a matter of perspective

By: Autumn Barszczowski

The other day while sitting in my research class, a fellow student handed out a survey about his client’s brand. One question stood out to me as it asked respondents to rank a number of issues (like animal rights, feminism, etc.).

The idea of ranking the most important human rights or environmental causes in order from one to seven was a strange concept to me. However, since I am an advertising student, I understood that this helped researchers to establish my lifestyle, feelings and personality.

Ranking these issues felt like deciding which wound to try and heal first, at least in my mind. In some ways, it almost makes me feel guilty because in a perfect world, you would not have to decide which was more important to you because you’d be able to dedicate the same amount of time to worrying about each.

But the world isn’t perfect so without consciously knowing it, we begin to rank the issues in our mind. As a bisexual, cisgender white woman who grew up in an impoverished neighborhood, I have been faced with and witnessed a variety of issues in my life.

I was presented with the grief and stereotypes faced by my black classmates. I was faced with the beauty and lady-like standards that I was supposed to follow as a woman. I watched as my friends feared for how society would view them due to who they loved or who they were.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, when these issues are constantly in your face, they tend to rank higher. Putting a numerical value to an issue almost seems silly, but they speak a lot to who you are as a person and what you are faced with in life.

You do not consciously decide that something is less important; it just doesn’t feel as urgent when it is not constantly affecting how you live your life or even the lives of those around you.

I attended a public middle school with a large population of black students in a poor neighborhood. We did not focus much on climate change because we were focusing on diversity, and acceptance was much more relevant to the students.

Immediately following that, climate change and environmental issues grew in importance for me because my high school focused on recycling and emphasizing environmental issues alongside diversity in race, gender and sexual orientation.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve been able to see how these issues became more or less important as you grow and learn more about the world. The importance of these issues at that time in your life reflect the world you were faced with and the perspective that you had.

That is perhaps the one upside to examining our own individual rankings. You can see exactly where you are or were in life just by the issues you fight for, and how you have grown as an individual.

Originally published in The Globe

The Progress We’ve Made Since 1967

A look back at what has changed since the Globe’s founding

By: Autumn Barszczowski

Let me set the scene for you: 1967, the year the Globe debuted, was at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, during the second wave  of white feminism, and before the Stonewall riots. It was a time of historical movements that stemmed from people trying to improve their livelihoods, obtain equal rights and claim their own identities.

The thing is, someone 50 years from now could also use that last sentence to describe 2017.

I started to consider how the Globe and our society has changed these past 50 years when I read a Globe article from March 6, 1969 entitled “The Power to Define” by James L. Saylor.

He discussed “the extinction of black identity” during that time and how, what he defined as white America, took control of the right to define black people’s role in society. Saylor wanted black people, including himself, to have the opportunity to define their own purpose in the world.

The ability to establish who you are is crucial for human beings, especially in a world bombarded by media and advertisements that attempt to tell you who you should be.

The specific rights that current movements are fighting for have evolved as the culture in our society changed. However, the core of all of our movements today are no different than what Saylor was suggesting to readers in 1969.

The Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March and the LGBT communities are trying to define their own role in the world. They are fighting back against the stereotypes and misconceptions about themselves on a daily basis that curtail their freedoms and cause them pain and misfortune.

Each movement is tailored to the rights that the individual groups have been denied in recent years. Through intersectionality and determination, these groups are attempting to achieve their goals.

Many of our history books claim that we have already obtained equal rights and our chance to set our own standards, but that is not the case for these people in the United States.

Our struggles are concealed and more complex than they once were, but they are not gone. People are being placed neatly back into their stereotypes and reminded that they already have their equal rights.

Just as Saylor did in 1969 in order to take control of his black identity, people of color, women and members of the LGBT community must gain the power to construct their own identities.

If we allow white, straight, cisgender male America to monopolize our identities, then we lose everything that we have worked for.

While our strides in social justice are not as complete as our history books claim, we cannot afford to lose this progress. Within these past 50 years we have taken baby steps towards our goal of equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. The United States has managed to keep the expectations and standards for these people the same since the 1960s.

On the positive side, despite the fact that we have not improved these standards, we have made tremendous advancements in technology.

Our ability to access social media and have our messages reach the entire world has given us a better chance of fighting back against the definitions that have been created for us.

In 50 years, I hope that people will look back on our archives and see that we, like Saylor, have continued to defend ourselves against the limitations placed upon us and that we did not allow ourselves to be defined by the America that stands before us.

We are more than our stereotypes, and we should not let the world ignore that.

Originally published in the Globe

Tekko Brings a New Sense of Community to Downtown Pittsburgh

Convention goers attend the 14th annual Japanese Pop Culture convention at David L. Lawrence’s Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.

By: Autumn Barszczowski
This video contains interviews from the attendees featured throughout the article as well as clips from the wedding ceremony, attendees dancing, the Masquerade skits, and more.

With Tekko convention attendees by their side, Shawn and Michelle Gallant got married dressed as video game characters during the annual convention here last weekend.

Meanwhile, others among the 7,600 in attendance, including Dominic Malloy and Stephanie Guerdeen, praised Tekko’s improved sexual harassment policies that prevents unwarranted advances.

Also for the first time, Tekko expanded the support of its own community by creating new policies, a cosplay repair room, expanding the game room, and much more.

“I think Pittsburgh is really accepting of the Tekko community, mostly because… it’s a weird thing,” said Malloy, explaining why Pittsburgh is so supportive. “If we are going to be weird, we are going to be the best at it.”

The convention, in its 14th year, was staged from April 7-10. It had a 30% increase in attendance from 2015.

This year, Tekko, which cost $50 for a regular pass, $75 for a premium pass, and $150 for the limited 25 “Rockstar” passes, hosted a number of voice actors and musical guests, including Marisha Ray, Matt Mercer, Micah Solos, Austin Tindle, Chris Patton, Back-On and DJ Bass.

This year saw an increase of awareness as well, including an appearance by Mayor Bill Peduto, who declared the weekend to be Tekko 2016 Week.

As Tekko’s city wide recognition grew, the officials of Tekko worked on making the attendees comfortable, including the Gallants, who were the first couple to ever be married at Tekko.

The couple was dressed as Talon and Cassiopeia from “League of Legends” during their ceremony. It was officiated during the annual Masquerade, where attendees danced, did walk-ons in their cosplays, and put on skits in character. Their bridesmaids and groomsmen were also dressed as characters from the game.

DSCF7988
Shawn Gallant and Michelle Gallant pose outside of the Main Stage on April 9 2016 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. This is shortly after their on stage ceremony during Tekko’s Annual Masquerade. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski

Tekko had been supportive of the couple getting married during the convention, going as far to create them their own bride groom badges, with unique badges for their wedding guests as well.

DSCF7995
This is Shawn Gallant’s custom Rockstar Badge for Tekko 2016. This was made special in order to include a groom character made specifically for Gallant. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 
DSCF7994
This is Michelle Gallant’s custom Rockstar Badge for Tekko 2016. This was made special in order to include a bride character made specifically for Gallant. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

“They were on-board 110% from the very beginning… this, by far, the most-organized and most receptive [convention I’ve been to],” Shawn said.

As for the rest of the convention, other cosplayers, like Malloy and Guerdeen, were enjoying the individual attention given to their cosplays by the Tekko Community.

Being dressed as Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza attracted the attention of “Hamilton the Musical” fanatics all over the convention.  While the pair of friends gloried in adulation stemming from the attention given to their cosplays, they were happy to turn the attention to Tekko’s new sexual harassment policy and how it has improved over the past few years.

DSCF7992
This badge was created with a bride and groom character specifically for the family and friends of Shawn and Michelle Gallant. These badges were only created for those who knew the bride and groom in order to make the ceremony unique. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

In the past, there had been incidents of harassment in which attendees had felt beleaguered in their cosplay. This year, Tekko chose to address those past problems by making it clear in their new policy that harassment is defined by the victim.

“The harassment policy has been very clear and has been… very everywhere,” said Guerdeen, “I can’t speak about other cosplayers, but I always feel happy and welcome here.”

Both Malloy and Guerdeen went on to discuss how not only the attendees have supported this policy, but how much this policy means to cosplayers and the development of the cosplay culture.

Along with improved policies, Tekko also worked to expand activities provided to attendees, including a larger game room that hosted Tekko’s first “Escape Room,” in which attendees worked through a series of puzzles to find their way out of a wooden room.

Scott Swank was a part of a Saturday team that went through the Escape Room, a day in which all the time slots had been sold out.

DSCF8005.JPG
This is Scott Swank’s Escape the Room team on Saturday night after they escaped within 44 minutes. Swank is featured in red on the right of the group. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski

While he was not in cosplay, he was there because he was a fan of escape rooms and he was excited for the convention to host this activity, as well as the expansion done on the game room this year.

“They are just offering a nice experience, which is a great way to support the people who go,” said Swank.

Tekko also hosted their first cosplay repair room, which fixed a variety of cosplays throughout the convention. It run by Louisa Fan, who was cosplaying as Nephthys from “Puzzles and Dragons” and had worked at other convention’s repair rooms in the past.

The room had characters such a stormtroopers gluing helmets, Thor adding felt to his fabric, and anime characters repairing cosplay props with glue.

At closing ceremonies on Sunday, she spoke of the positive response that attendees had of the repair room, including comments such as “Jesus was saved by cosplay repair,” referring to a cosplayer who chose to dress up as Jesus.

Most of Fan’s staff had previously worked at or attended Tekko and say that this had been their best experience.

“I love cosplay repair, so having other people be like, ‘I think I had even more fun working as a volunteer,’ that was just really awesome,” said Fan.

DSCF8013.JPG
This is Louisa Fan and Lane Ryan working to hot glue a Storm Trooper helmet during the convention on Saturday afternoon. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

 

During a social hour on Friday night, Maegen McMillen discussed the process of putting this convention and other Pittsburgh Japanese Cultural Society, or Pitt JCS, events together, including how she has come to discover the importance of anime conventions to others.

Being apart of the Table Swap Project management means that McMillen is constantly on the go, making sure to advertise for Pitt JCS and Tekko during other local conventions.

“I’ve driven thousand of miles for conventions… [but] you do it for the kids,” said McMillen, discussing how many attendees have spoken to her about how the Tekko family has helped them to keep moving forward and to find their own support system within the convention.

Some of the attendees who have praised the support system included the Tekko Gakkou panelists Chelsea Marshall dressed as Ayase Eli and Brea Ross cosplaying as Nozomi Tojo, both from “Love Live.” The couple worked with Tekko Gakkou, the educational track at Tekko in order to create LGBT+ informative panels this year.

In their panel, the couple discussed the importance of LGBT+ representation and the historical backgrounds of Japanese culture that influence these particular representations.

The influences for their first panel came from their own personal experience and connections to the LGBT+ community and they made it clear that panels like these were important to have, especially in a community that has a large portion of LGBT+ people.

“We decided to debut this panel here [because of the support] and it was an overwhelming success. It went so much better than we ever expected it to,” said Marshall.

The two believed that the success stemmed from the support Tekko has given to their large LGBT+ community, including by advertising at Pittsburgh Pride.

As for the future, the couple believes that they will look at LGBT+ representation in other areas in order to continue to educate the public on the issues and history.

“We are really interested in running panels that have a look at nerd culture and fandom culture and how those things intersect,” Ross said.

Outside of panels, people like Emily “Gale” Smith work to support the LGBT+ community at Tekko in other ways, including creating the Nightengale Needles booth found in Artist’s Alley.

Nightengale Needles has a large variety of LGBT+ products ranging from scarves, to blankets, and even pride pals, a monster that has a pride heart that depict the pride flags for a variety of sexual and gender identities.

Smith has been a vendor at Tekko for seven years and says that meeting people through her booth has been inspirational.

“My booth inspires a lot of deep and sometimes really emotionally loaded conversations. I like to think I learn as much as I am able to impart,” Smith said.

Along with a number of artists and dealers like Smith, there were also 250+ volunteer staff members that worked operations like bag check, security, registration, and much more.

One staff member, Josh Palmquisd had been attending Tekko for over eight years, but this was his first year working the convention.

He had heard from other friends about what it was like to work at Tekko and found that during this year’s convention, he grew a new appreciation for all that staff members do for attendees.

He believes that these volunteers go above and beyond by dedicating their time to making the convention run smoothly and to address any issues that are reported.

One of his experiences this year included helping someone to find their badge, because he knows that as an attendee, he himself would have been upset to lose it and wanted to go above and beyond to help them out.

“We all volunteer our time and I think we are all a bunch of good people trying to do the right thing,” said Palmquisd.

Meanwhile, Tekko not only inspires its own volunteer members for the convention, but for volunteers in the Pittsburgh Community.

Convention attendee Rachel Makary, founder of Volunteer Princesses and cosplaying as Judy Hopps from Disney’s “Zootopia,” discussed how her own cosplays made for conventions have brightened the lives of the kids that she has met through her organization.

She no longer just uses cosplay for herself, but she uses the cosplay to help bring the community together, both inside and outside of the convention.

After winning last year’s Masquerade in the Western Category, Makary also gained more confidence not only in her cosplays, but in herself by performing a skit as Drizella Tremaine from “Cinderella.”

“We didn’t think that our cosplays were popular, and I didn’t feel very confident in mine, but we went out and everyone loved it,” said Makary, discussing the best experience she has had at Tekko.

The support of people’s cosplays is a common theme found in Tekko, and the new policies and resources have only reinforced the need to support Tekko’s inner-community, as well as the Pittsburgh community.

At the end of the weekend during closing ceremonies, the Pitt JCS team announced the Tekko 2017 will be held from April 6th to the 9th. Tickets were available at ceremonies and will be available online in the upcoming months.

Originally Published on Her Campus – Point Park

 

Shaping the future of America: Doctoral Student, Maureen Anderson

Charter school teachers start doctoral program at Point Park University in order to design and create a new technology and trades charter school in the Pittsburgh area.

By: Autumn Barszczowski

Charter school teachers Maureen Anderson and Angela Musto were chatting one day on a subway ride about wanting to prepare students for careers through process-based learning.

The concept is unlike vocational schools, although still aims to support students who learn better with hands-on experiences.

“[They are] what we see as the foundation for America… not just the laborers,” said Musto.

These teachers are pursuing doctorates in education at Point Park University and competing in a new school contest with hopes of establishing a charter school in Pittsburgh that will accomplish just that.

Musto is from Normalville, Pa., and earned her Bachelor of Science degree at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her master’s at Capella University.

Meanwhile, Anderson grew up in Beaver County, Pa., and earned her bachelor’s degree at the main campus of Pennsylvania State University and her master’s at Robert Morris University, including her teaching certification.

Anderson is still working for a successful downtown Pittsburgh charter school as an activities manager and science teacher/educational leader along with Musto.

They are both currently pursuing doctorates in order to create a school that would prepare those students for careers after graduation.

As they study for their doctorates of education at Point Park, they are laying out the designs for a new high school called Career Tech Charter School. This school will be a technology and trade focused school that works to educate students through hands-on experiences and project-based learning.

The charter school project started in the fall of 2014, on a subway ride into downtown Pittsburgh. Anderson, an activities manager at a downtown charter school, decided to share her idea with a fellow teacher, Musto, a physics and educational administrator,  someone who she knew would give her honest criticism. Her idea was about a charter focused on catering to students who need more hands-on experiences in learning.

However, instead of offering criticism, Musto just replied that she was in, that she wanted to be a part of the project that would work to bring this school to life.

Musto, agreeing to take part, gave Anderson the motivation to create a plan that would help them to achieve their goals of forming Career Tech.

While establishing the foundation of this school, they realized that the school they were picturing was not traditional.

“It’s not a vo-tech school and it’s not a career tech ed school. It’s sort of a synthesis of a variety of schools put together. A more innovative and more in line with disruptive education,” said Anderson.

She discussed that this would be process-based learning where they have a way to learn trade skills that are not taught as much anymore and that they would be able to earn an associate’s degree or certificate while going through high school.

This would help students to feel so empowered when they graduated to either continue their education or have the resources to jump right into their career field.

Anderson has gone through a series of her own careers since high school, from a worker of the federal government, to a career readiness teacher as well as an activities manager at an award-winning downtown Pittsburgh charter school.

Maureen Anderson poses in Market Square of downtown Pittsburgh on a March evening. This was during the reveal of a new art piece displayed in the square that night and after the interview where she discussed Career Tech Charter. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

Having grown up in a blue-collar family, she understands the struggle some students face when attending a high school that nowadays the focus is on getting students into colleges rather than into career fields.

The goal of Career Tech is to help those students earn their high school degree and valuable career credentials in the technology, engineering, and trades areas while in high school so that they can enter the workforce prepared or continue their education.

Previous students of Anderson’s, like Bill Vogel, an application engineer, discussed the importance of Career Tech’s values in the engineering field, where many workers are not ready for the hands-on projects.

“Introducing this type of [tech and trade education is] only going to help and get people on the right track of where they are going,” Vogel said, emphasizing that a middle realm of students trained to work with their hands was missing, instead being replaced by workers who have the degree but hardly any hands-on experience.

As Anderson began to inform her network of colleagues and past students about her plans with Musto, most were supportive, and those who were not told her that she was not the person to take on this job.

However, while working as a career readiness teacher, Anderson encountered a variety of  students who struggled to identify and explore viable career options in the technology and trades field because they felt their only option was a four-year college degree.

Over the years of working with Carol Moye as teachers, Moye began to realize how passionate Anderson was about making sure those students got the support they needed.

Moye discussed one particularly difficult student that was constantly failing his classes and not putting forth effort.  “[Anderson] wouldn’t let him quit and you know, I remember a lot of her desire to start this school is based on this kid and other people like him,” said Moye.

In order to get this school started, Anderson decided, along with Musto, that they would take part in XQ: The Super School Project, a competition geared towards finding innovative high schools and funding five of the top teams with $10 Million each in order to create their school.

Currently, they are waiting for a response to see if they will continue onto phase three, although they have already begun the work on the phase in case they are chosen.

Anderson has always been prepared for the next few steps of this competition and has a plethora of connections with people who will be able to help Musto and herself achieve whatever component is needed.

“She is the people-person,” said Musto. “She has done an amazing job on building up a system of support and putting the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

This includes the creation of student surveys, as well as a video submission, for XQ in order to show the judges what students think about the foundation of their school and what youth are looking for in a high school experience.

Other plans for creating this school have been to pursue doctorates of education at PPU, as well as earning principal certifications within the next three years.

Vogel and Moye both agreed that one of the biggest barriers of this project will be obtaining a charter from the Pittsburgh Public School District or Pittsburgh Board of Education in order to create this school, although Vogel believes that it will be hard because they will have to convince everyone that Career Tech is not just another vocational school.

Anderson has been enjoying the feedback from students and professionals about the different parts of Career Tech and how they can work to improve the high school experience for students.

Originally Published on Her Campus – Point Park