The City of Pittsburgh will proudly celebrate its 200th year anniversary on March 18, 2016. In the last 200 years, Pittsburgh has continuously reinvented itself by demonstrating an innovative mindset. In 1911, Pittsburgh was the nation’s 8th-largest city in America, accounting between a third and a half of country’s steel output. Near the end of 20th century, the area shifted its economic base to education, healthcare, finance, and technology including opening the world’s first Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Through embracing the startup community, innovative educational models, equality across the region and health, Pittsburgh shows no signs of slowing down.
What is the secret to Pittsburgh’s innovative mindset? Is it the secret sauce on McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich that was invented in the Pittsburgh region in 1967? I argue that the secret to Pittsburgh’s innovative mindset is its people. The people of Pittsburgh are an unique blend of intelligence, hard-work, and resilience – including August Wilson, Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly, Rachel Carson, Thomas Starzl, Jonas Salk, Kenny Clarke, Perry Como, Billy Porter and Roberto Clemente, just to name a few.
But there was one person that captured innovation more than any other in Pittsburgh’s history. This educator captured Pittsburghers’ strength to change and adapt while also capturing hearts. He was the person who invited us into his home from 1968 – 2001. Fred Rogers, creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, first came into our living rooms in 1968. In the very first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on February 19, 1968, Mister Rogers asked a question that is at the center of innovation, “How do you feel about new things?” His response to that question a few minutes later was, “Change is good”.
Fred Rogers used an innovative technology, television, to disrupt the way that knowledge was transferred to students. This innovation spirit continues to flow throughout Pittsburgh and disrupt education through its ecosystem of organizations and people. In 2014, Pittsburgh became the first U.S. city to win the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award. A pivotal force behind this award was the Kids+Creativity initiative – now called the Remake Learning Network – a collaborative ecosystem of people, projects and organizations working together to reinvent learning in schools, libraries, museums, after school programs, community centers and online.
How is this education ecosystem supporting the Pittsburgh Innovation Mindset? A list of some of Pittsburgh’s established innovative educational organizations that work collaboratively as part of the Remake Learning Network are as follows:
- Center for Creativity is housed at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and connects the region’s diverse and creative resources with educators and administrators as they infuse arts and technology in creative and inventive ways into the curriculum. Over the past six years, the Center (with help from the Grable and Benedum Foundations) has provided over $4 million in grants to help nearly 70 public school districts in the region create remarkable learning experiences for students. The Center is the region’s go-to creativity-hub for preK-12 educators.
- Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh provides innovative museum experiences that inspire joy, creativity and curiosity. MAKESHOP® is a space for children and families to make, play and design using “real stuff”— the same materials, tools, and processes used by professional artists, builders, programmers and creators of all kinds.
- Carnegie Science Center inspires and entertains by connecting science and technology with everyday life. In addition to providing valuable scientific experiences, Carnegie Science Center engages in outreach programs that serve Pittsburgh’s diverse community.
- PAEYC supports high-quality care and education for young children from birth until age nine across 10 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
- Zulama Games creates information, systems and tools that inspire life-changing educational experiences for students and their mentors.
- Fred Rogers Center enriches the development of current and emerging leaders in the fields of early learning and children’s media by supporting the professional advancement and mentoring of the next generations of Fred Rogers.
- League of Innovative Schools: Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward, and South Fayette
- Carnegie Mellon University, including its Community Robotics, Education, And Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) which explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies, and it’s Entertainment Technology Center, which works with schools and other nonprofits to add meaningful gamification to the learning process
- The Consortium of Public Education is working to ensure that all children in our region start school ready to learn and graduate from high school prepared for lifelong learning, careers and citizenship. Through its Forum for Collaborative Leadership and Innovation, The Consortium convenes to support multi-disciplinary teams of educators with research, coaching and other resources to pursue systemic improvements in their schools and districts.
- Schell Games is a full-service game design and development company, which specializes in creating transformational games and innovative, interactive experiences.
- Assemble is an open physical space in an urban neighborhood in Pittsburgh. They unite artists, technologists, and makers with our neighbors of all demographics.
- The Sprout Fund has been a key steward of the Remake Learning Network. They bring the community together through large and small scale events, as well as offer catalytic funding to bring innovative ideas to life.
In addition to Pittsburgh’s established educational leaders, Pittsburgh has also seen new and emerging organizations and schools of Innovation:
- Pearl Club University is a 6-year college success sisterhood for young women beginning in 11th grade. TPCU is comprised of two schools, the School of College Readiness and the School of College Success.
- Environmental Charter School at Frick Park is a K-8 public charter school that strives to graduate students who are problem seekers, critical thinkers, and thoughtful innovators. ECS believe that connecting student learning to an authentic, place-based experience sets the stage for deeper student learning – which means they are using their knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines in a way that prepares them for real life.
- Startups: Interactive Story Adventures, Project Playground, and Wrinkled Brain Project
- Montour School District (3 Tips for Accelerating Innovation in an Historically Traditional District)
- Holy Family Academy is a private Catholic School based on the Cristo Rey Model.
- Energy Innovation Center is to contribute to socially responsible workforce development, foster energy and sustainable technology advancement, and assist in job creation through a commitment to diversity, innovation and comprehensive education.
- Schools That Can is a national non-profit organization uniting leaders to expand quality urban education and close the skills and opportunity gap.
- Art Groups: Dreams of Hope, Bricolage Production Company, and ARThouse.
- The Citizen Science Lab is to engage and promote the limitless opportunities that the life sciences offer to the betterment of the community.
Pittsburgh is an exciting place to work and play. It is no wonder why Pittsburgh was named one of the Most Livable Cities in the World and is often referred as KidsBurgh.
For more check out:
- Smart Cities That Work for Everyone
- How Pittsburgh Created An Innovation Hub For Learning
- Pittsburgh: University Inspired EdTech
Justin Aglio is the Director of Innovation at Montour School District. Follow Justin on Twitter, @JustinAglio.