Pitt Project Helps High School Students Turn a “Green” Eye To Building Design

Issue Date: 
February 26, 2007

Windmills with inlayed solar panels might not end up in the final plans for the upcoming renovation of Mt. Lebanon High School, but students in the school’s advanced placement environmental science class have learned the importance of environmentally sound building design, thanks to a Pitt-funded “green” engineering project. Through the Making Our School Environmentally Responsible (MOUSER) project—funded by a $30,000 grant from the University’s Mascaro Sustainability Initiative (MSI)—Pitt faculty members and Mt. Lebanon High School teachers together created a six-week course in which students gain firsthand experience with sustainable building concepts.

Students weigh the costs and benefits of energy-efficient buildings and explore several methods of producing electricity, among other lessons, said Jennifer Cramer, who teaches Mt. Lebanon’s 11th- and 12th-grade AP environmental science class.

Early this month, Cramer’s students closed out the project’s second year at Mt. Lebanon by presenting models of their soon-to-be renovated high school—with a “green” twist. For example, some students proposed replacing the school’s energy-draining triple-cafeteria layout with a single lunchroom.

“I encourage the kids to be creative. You never know when something totally off-the-wall might work,” Cramer said.

After this month’s presentations, Cramer assigned her students to compile five or six of their more feasible “green” ideas for presentation to the Mt. Lebanon school board.

Jennifer Cartier, an MSI affiliate and an assistant professor of science education in Pitt’s School of Education, helped to create the MOUSER curriculum for Mt. Lebanon High School. “The University brought a lot of intellectual resources and professional contacts to the project,” she said. “This is a really important set of ideas, and if we make the materials accessible to teachers, they are more likely to get their kids thinking about these ideas.”

Cartier plans to launch MOUSER-like projects in other school districts. Indeed, MOUSER and other curriculum development grants stem from a larger mission of the MSI to promulgate the virtues of “green” building, particularly to younger generations, said MSI codirector Gena Kovalcik. (MSI also helped design a “building green” exhibition at the Carnegie Science Center that focuses on environmentally safe building methods and materials.)

“The curriculum development grants are among our most successful projects,” said Kovalcik. “Young people see a side of science and engineering with an immediate benefit.”

MOUSER is one of two existing MSI-funded programs that teach high school students about Earth-friendly construction; the other is a one-day program at the Powdermill Nature Reserve, a 2,220-acre biological study area in the Laurel Highlands run by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.