Lehigh lawmaker looks to make esports available to all Pa. students

Electronic sports (esports) are introducing students in high school and higher education to careers in gaming, software, and STEM-related jobs, and a Lehigh lawmaker looks to make esports accessible to every student across the state. 

Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, was part of a roundtable discussion held Wednesday by the House Majority Policy Committee to learn more about the billion-dollar industry and its impact on the state’s economy and education. While esports teams exist throughout Pennsylvania at the high school level, the cost of these programs includes thousands of dollars in equipment and supervisors and poses challenges to economically disadvantaged school districts. 

Schlossberg has authored legislation to create a sustainable funding stream to support extracurricular programs for students across the state. 

“At first glance, esports might look like only video games, but one of the greatest aspects of extracurricular activities is to create an atmosphere where students build friendships and learn outside a classroom,” Schlossberg said in a statement. “Esports not only provides those opportunities, but it also exposes students to new digital technology and presents the possibility – like traditional sports – for students to earn college scholarships.”

Rep. Danilo Burgos, D-Philadelphia, said esports can provide the spark that encourages academic and emotional development in students.

“One of the most exciting aspects about esports, for me as a legislator and Latino, is its potential for an equitable solution to our strikingly low number of Black and Hispanic workers in STEM-related careers,” said Burgos, chairman of the Policy Subcommittee on Progressive Policies for Working People.

“Esports attract a diverse group of students, regardless of race or gender, and it has proven itself as a gateway into encouraging young people to pursue STEM education as well as STEM-related careers.”

Developing familiarity with digital technology at a young age is another aspect of esports. Studies show that Black youth make up the largest portion of the gaming teenage community, yet Black workers account for only 9% of the jobs in STEM-related fields.

“Esports offer students another chance to interact and learn alongside their peers,” said House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie. “It also has the potential to bring together a diverse group of students, and it encourages an interest and understanding of the science and digital technology being used at their fingertips. Esports also offer a tremendous economic opportunity for Pennsylvania.”

During the roundtable discussion, the House Majority Policy Committee heard from experts and business leaders on the esports industry and its potential positive effects on Pennsylvania’s economy and workforce.

PASSHE addresses ‘critical’ teacher shortage

The plight of Pennsylvania’s workforce shortage has hit the education sector particularly hard. 

A press release by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) states that the number of new certified teachers in the state since 2011 dropped by nearly 67%. In 2020-21, Pennsylvania issued more emergency teaching permits than new teacher certifications. 

As job growth in the Pre-K to 12 education field is expected to be 6% by 2030, more than 10,000 additional educators and teachers will be needed than Pennsylvania currently has. A shortage of new teachers can leave public and private schools with fewer candidates to fill jobs. Additionally, students may be left without a regular teacher as shortages in educators can also cause larger class sizes and require other school staff to fill in.  

PASSHE said it is addressing the teacher shortage by seeking $112 million in state funding to produce more graduates in six in-demand, high-growth jobs, including education. PASSHE would use $56.5 million to provide direct financial relief to education students, saving each student an average of $1,500. High-need students could receive an additional $5,000, for a total of $6,500 per year. 

PASSHE discovered shortly before its recent House Appropriations Committee hearing that its description of the funding request was confusing to some legislators. To reduce confusion, it has changed slightly how it describes its request. 

To clarify, PASSHE is seeking the $112 million in state funding, mostly for financial aid, to enable more students to afford the education necessary for six targeted careers with worker shortages. This combined with a 3.8% ($21 million) inflationary increase in base funding would enable PASSHE’s Board of Governors to consider freezing tuition for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. 

By making a degree more affordable, PASSHE expects more Pennsylvanians will be encouraged to pursue careers in the teaching profession. 

Along with teaching, the careers targeted by PASSHE are nursing, social services, business, and the STEM fields of engineering and computer science.

Evonik donates $100K to support STEM education for girls

The Da Vinci Science Center of Allentown said it recently received a $100,000 sponsorship from Evonik Corp. in support of its Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Initiative. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

The Da Vinci Science Center of Allentown said it recently received a $100,000 sponsorship from Evonik Corp. in support of its Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Initiative.  

“We can’t thank Evonik enough for their ongoing support of the WISE initiative,” said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of Da Vinci Science Center. “In addition to their generous financial support, it is important to note that many of Evonik’s employees give their time and expertise to WISE, ensuring its continued success and growth.”  

Evonik Corp., a leader in specialty chemicals with a significant footprint in the Lehigh Valley, is dedicated to gender equality in the workplace and recognizes the importance of supporting community partners with the same commitment, said Jean Vincent, a senior vice president at Evonik. 

“Evonik is committed to supporting programs that help remove barriers for women as well as those that encourage girls to consider STEM careers. Da Vinci Science Center’s WISE Initiative focuses on both of those areas,” Vincent said.  

The WISE Initiative is dedicated to creating a supportive community of women employed in STEM fields and encouraging girls who aspire to follow a STEM career path. Through a federally funded research study, the Science Center has worked to identify barriers for girls and women in STEM and redefine how the Science Center offers and markets opportunities to girls.  

Allentown officials, Governor break ground on Da Vinci Science Center

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf participates in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown. PHOTO/PACAST –

Governor Tom Wolf today joined Allentown area officials to celebrate the groundbreaking of the $65 million Da Vinci Science Center in the city’s Neighborhood Investment Zone downtown. 

The state has made an $11 million state investment, through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), to expand the Da Vinci Science Center’s footprint with this second location to provide even more opportunities for hands-on science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) learning.  

“The Da Vinci Science Center has long been an innovative hub where children of all ages could experience hands-on STEAM learning,” said Gov. Wolf. “This investment in the center’s expansion is an investment in a bright future for every child who walks through the door and the local economy alike.” 

Plans are to construct a 67,300-square-foot new science center which will be home to more than 30,000 square feet of STEM-based interactive exhibits, an 8,600 square-foot STEAM Learning Center, a 150-seat demonstration theater, a grand courtyard and exhibit space.  

“The Da Vinci Science Center is grateful for the generous support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to make our new facility in downtown Allentown a reality,” said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of Da Vinci Science Center. “This project would not be possible without the support of Governor Wolf and the Lehigh Valley delegation and will ensure that Da Vinci Science Center is poised to inspire our students today to be the STEAM workforce of tomorrow.”  

Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds support critical expansion projects, provide opportunities for job creation and employment training, and community revitalization across the commonwealth. 

The Science Center will be located on Hamilton Street between 8th and 9th streets. 

LCCC launches Makerspace in Tamaqua

Lehigh Carbon Community College said will dedicate its new STEAM Makerspace at LCCC Tamaqua in a ribbon cutting ceremony April 13.  

Funded through the college’s SHINE after-school program, the makerspace is housed in an innovative, newly customized classroom in the Morgan Center. 

The STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) makerspace is designed to promote collaboration and provide a space for hands-on, experiential learning that highlights the real-world application of academic lessons.  

The Tamaqua makerspace will serve a number of roles within the community: a collaborative hub for LCCC’s Teacher Education Program, an area for professional development for local K-12 faculty and a home for STEM summer camps for local K-12 students. 

LCCC designed the makerspace to capitalize on the strengths of hands-on learning, allowing participants to experiment with actual solutions to real-world problems. Makerspaces provide users with the opportunity to utilize new tools and apply new approaches to learning. 

The Tamaqua facility is stocked with a variety of both high- and low-tech items including a 3D printer, robotic items, a green screen for animation and a LEGO wall. It will be available for use by area school districts, teachers and for professional development later in the fall. 


What’s So Cool About Manufacturing Lehigh Valley begins ninth year

The 2015 What’s So Cool About Manufacturing awards event at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. PHOTO/FILE –

As the weather gets cooler, so does manufacturing for middle school students in the Greater Lehigh Valley. 

The Manufacturers Resource Center has now begun its ninth year of the What’s So Cool About Manufacturing Program. 

In the Lehigh Valley, 28 student teams from Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton county middle schools are partnering with 28 area manufacturers to produce videos that highlight their operations, with the theme of “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing.” 

The goal is to get young people interested in manufacturing and other STEM-based careers, which need skilled labor. 

The program, now held in counties throughout the state, originated in the Lehigh Valley. After winners are selected in each county, they will compete in a statewide competition in the spring. 

Participating manufacturers include such employers as Lutron, Mack Trucks, ATAS International, Ocean Spray, Orbel Corp. Tyber Medical and Stanley Black & Decker. 

“Building awareness for manufacturing careers has been our goal, by continuing to pair students and local manufacturers to work together with combined enthusiasm,” said Karen Buck, manager of workforce initiatives at MRC. “The benefits from the program for both students and manufacturers are limitless. Manufacturers get to offer students a rare behind-the-scenes perspective into well-paying careers in manufacturing. Students experience what it would be like to one day work for a cool, modern manufacturer. Younger generations are encouraged to become excited about STEM and CTE education and later, to possibly explore opportunities in manufacturing.” 

Over the next several months teams of seventh and eighth graders will meet with the manufacturers to learn about their operations and create videos explaining what they do. The videos will posted to the website, whatssocool.org, and will be open to the public for voting February 23-25 for the Viewers’ Choice Award.  

The Lehigh Valley Awards Event is scheduled for March 1 at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. 

Videos created through the yearly regional contests have been compiled as an educational resource for anyone who is curious about manufacturing in Pennsylvania.  

The What’s So Cool About Manufacturing video library was created in 2020. It was funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and contains almost 900 manufacturing videos. 

Penn State Lehigh Valley cuts ribbon on $14.4M expansion

After more than 18 months of construction, Penn State Lehigh Valley cut the ribbon on a $14.4 million campus expansion that includes a full-service cafeteria, enhanced space for student programing and the Charles W. Dent STEM Wing. 

 The Dent wing is dedicated to STEM education and includes faculty offices and classroom space, a prep lab, a lab technician office, equipment room, lounge and a 2,199-square-foot laboratory. The lab will allow the campus to offer organic chemistry courses and give students the opportunity to complete their undergraduate requirements for medical school at the Lehigh Valley campus. 

“I’ve never been more sure that the decision we made to pursue this 20,500-square-foot expansion was the right thing to do for our students and the long-term economic viability of the Lehigh Valley,” Penn State Lehigh Valley Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson said at the ribbon cutting. “Healthcare was already our largest employer – even before COVID created a greater need – and STEM remains the most crucial and sought-after skillsets.  

“Today, thanks to the support of the University, and the tireless efforts of the many people involved in this strategic undertaking, this campus is better equipped to educate in STEM fields at a higher level and in the very personalized setting that differentiates Penn State Lehigh Valley.” 

NIZ funds to help with planned Da Vinci Center in downtown Allentown

Rendering of the planned Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion. FILE –

The Da Vinci Science Center has received approval for financing through the Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority.

The authority has agreed to issue $20 million in revenue bonds backed by NIZ tax revenues and gaming revenues to finance the $65 million planned project.

Another $6 million will be secured by Developer Dedicated NIZ Tax Revenues. The balance will be secured by state gaming revenues which were committed to the development of the new science center in late 2017.

With this funding, Da Vinci said it has raised more than $47 million of its $65 million goal.

The new 67,000-square-foot Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion will be located adjacent to the PPL Center arena. It is expected to drive a new wave of development within the NIZ over the next several years.

The NIZ is a 128-acre area of downtown Allentown where certain state and local tax revenues generated by business in the zone can be used to pay debt service on bonds and loans issued for building and qualifying capital improvements.

“We appreciate the ongoing support from the City of Allentown and especially want to thank the ANIZDA board of directors for their financial investment and for sharing in our vision for a major new science center in downtown,” said Maureen Michael, chief administrative officer and chief financial officer for Da Vinci. “The Science Center will make a significant contribution to the critical mass of activities available in downtown Allentown for both residents and visitors on weekends, holidays and evenings year-round,” she noted. The new facility is expected to attract more than 400,000 visitors, support 487 full time jobs and $33.4 million in economic output annually.

In addition to being a major attraction for the region, the new Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion will be a regional center of excellence for STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math — education, and a workforce development partner to area businesses.

The Da Vinci Center’s main campus is also in Allentown, located on the campus of Cedar Crest College.

Early outreach, big dreams leading more students to engineering majors

Engineering professor, Sara Atwood, works with a pair of engineering students at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Educators in the region’s colleges and universities say they are seeing a steady growth in students interested in majoring in engineering disciplines, and the ones coming into their programs are showing more knowledge and have more hands-on experience than in the past.

Most see two main factors for the trend:

First is the availability of engineering jobs and the salaries. Second, the years of pushing the idea of engineering careers and other STEM fields to the young set are starting to pay off.

The current starting salary projection for Class of 2020 engineering graduates is $69,961 per year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Those salaries can be earned in a variety of fields.

In Pennsylvania, a number engineering disciplines are in demand.

The Workforce Development Board of the Greater Lehigh Valley named civil engineers, mechanical engineers and industrial engineers as some of the most in-demand engineering fields. Demand for skills in drafting, engineering and mapping technologies is also very strong.

At Penn State Lehigh Valley in Center Valley, which has a two-year engineering program, Tracey Carbonetto, a lecturer of mechanical engineering, said the majority of students on campus are in some sort of an engineering program. Mechanical, industrial, civil, aerospace and biomedical are among the top being studied, she said.

“There’s a lot of different directions an engineering career can take you,” she said. “And there’s a promise of a good job market. They’re not going to toil away for four years and then get out of school and they can’t find a job.”

At Elizabethtown College, which has a prominent engineering program in Lancaster County, engineering professor, Sara Atwood, said the growth in engineering interest has been significant.

“In the last 10 years we have definitely had a huge increase in engineering enrollment. We are essentially at capacity for our program,” Atwood said.

She said the engineering degree gives them skills they can use in engineering jobs or even in finance or law careers.

At Lehigh University in Bethlehem, which has one of nation’s top engineering programs, it’s harder to quantify an increase in demand, said Greg Tonkay, associate dean for academic affairs in the engineering college. Demand to get into Lehigh’s engineering program is always strong, he said.

“We tend not to see large changes in enrollment in engineering because the school tries to balance its enrollment in different programs,” Tonkay said.

He did note that the incoming students are coming with a level of know-how, hands-on experience and enthusiasm that he wasn’t seeing 10 years ago.

He credits scholastic STEM Programs for letting younger students experiment with engineering technologies and create real-world projects that go beyond basic academic lectures.

“There was a time prior to the STEM push, where students had no experience working with their hands,” Tonkay said. “Society as a whole doesn’t fix as much anymore, so there’s no tinkering. STEM started a bunch of activities that are hands on so they can decide if it’s something they want to do or not.

Atwood said such programs have helped to increase women enrollment.

“We’ve seen that the effects of such programs have doubled the percent of women in engineering and more people are being exposed to it at an earlier age,” Atwood said. “10 years ago people came in here and didn’t really know what engineering meant.”

Karen Buck, manager of workforce initiatives for the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley, said there are many academic programs being developed throughout the state of Pennsylvania to expose younger people to opportunities in engineering from actual lesson plans that focus on engineering subjects to extracurricular efforts.

She pointed to the “What’s so Cool About Manufacturing” contests, which sends eighth grade students into manufacturers to create videos about their operations, as a popular program that began in Lehigh and Northampton counties seven years ago and is debuting in Central Pennsylvania this year.

There is also a “Dream Team” of recent engineering grads that go into schools to talk to school students about engineering opportunities.

“This is good because they’re getting to talk to people a little closer to their age,” Buck said.

Carbonetto said bio-medical fields and green technology are also attracting students that hope to use their education to shape a better world.

“In the bio-medical file all of these possibilities are becoming feasible,” she said. “These students have the option to do something that may be remarkable. They can have an impact on the world when they’re 22-23 years old.”


LV Manufacturers host Manufacturing Day events

Oct. 4 is national Manufacturing Day. To mark the occasion a number of Lehigh Valley manufacturers held special events to promote manufacturing careers to young people.

Victaulic invited more than 40 area students to its world headquarters in Forks Township to learn about the company’s operations.

The students were from the Career Institute of Technology’s Machine Tool Technology Program in Forks Township, which serves the Bangor, Nazareth, Wilson, Easton and Pen Argyl area school districts.

Victaulic, which has been active in promoting STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in schools, provided the opportunity for the students to learn about what kind of skills and training are needed to enter a manufacturing career at a place like Victaulic, which is a manufacturer of pipe fittings.

ATAS International Inc. of Upper Macungie Township, another local STEM supporter, also invited students to take a tour of its plant, led by John Fenstermacher, general manager.

During the tour, the eighth grade students got to experience first-hand the processes in which metal components for building envelopes are manufactured. The company also hosted a panel discussion on manufacturing industry careers and students got to hear directly from ATAS employees about their job responsibilities and skills.

Victaulic and ATAS were among nearly 2,800 manufacturers across the nation participating in Manufacturing Day events.