Extension Spotlight: Engaged Pittsburgh, Engaged Scholarship

Posted: October 22, 2015

The Penn State Center Pittsburgh provided meaningful opportunities to students and their partners this summer.
Jeff Holzer worked on community assessment mapping this summer, as well as other projects.

Jeff Holzer worked on community assessment mapping this summer, as well as other projects.

At The Penn State Center Pittsburgh, "Engaging Pittsburgh" is more than just a slogan. The Center is engaged deeply in the community, making great strides in the last several years to preserve and enhance the quality of life in the city. Through partnerships and collaboration among stakeholders, The Penn State Center is fighting hunger, solving stormwater issues and empowering residents to join the movement.

At Penn State, students are provided more than in-classroom academics. Students are defined by the out-of-the-classroom experiences, internships and projects that they participate in. Throughout the university, academic units seek to provide increasing opportunities for engaged scholarship, and The Penn State Center Pittsburgh is no exception. Providing real, on-the-ground internship experience a hallmark of this center. Just ask Jeff Holzer, Landscape Architecture and Matt Dilger, Environmental Resource Management (ERM).

Holzer had the opportunity to work on several projects, one being a green infrastructure design. Stanton Heights, a community in the north side of Pittsburgh, was looking for a conceptual stormwater management plan for their neighborhood. Using knowledge from the classroom and assistance from colleagues at The Penn State Center, Holzer was able to create a design that included porous pavement, a bioretention basin and utilize an existing hillside to collect stormwater. On street corners, he redesigned existing sidewalks and created a place for rain gardens.



Holzer designed a green infrastructure plan for the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Stanton Heights.

Matt Dilger, a senior in ERM, also had the opportunity to provide the center with valuable work this summer. The Energy Innovation Center was The Penn State Center’s first green infrastructure project. Through partnerships that the center created, staff, interns and the Department of Public Works were able to update this area to have trees, a bioswale and pervious sidewalks. Although this project is several years old now, Dilger provided much needed updates to the area.

Throughout the summer, Dilger added three GS3 decagon sensors in the newly planted tree boxes along Bedford Avenue. The sensors can now monitor volumetric water content, soil temperature, electrical conductivity and gauge rainfall. Via DataTrac, Dilger and other staff can access real time data from those sensors.



Dilger configuring the data logger and testing the sensors after they were installed.

Aside from supporting student projects, the center is also engaging local partnerships. Four Mile Run is a large urban green infrastructure project facilitated by the center. With help from DCNR's TreeVitalize program providing trees, Councilman Corey O'Connor providing financial compensation, shrubs and grasses, and the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works providing labor, this project was able to span both sides of a one block area. The project showcases pervious pavers, bioswales to infiltrate around 350,000 gallons of stormwater annually, and trees to shade sidewalks.

“It is great to work with the students—and it is even greater when our interns turn into employees of the Penn State Center!” says Lisa Vavro, the Sustainable Environments Manager said.

Visit their website to learn more about the Penn State Center: Engaging Pittsburgh and their green infrastructure projects.