When I think of Pittsburgh, I think of Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers, the Pirates (please note I am a Cincinnati Reds fan), the Steel City, and yes, Primanti Brothers (the king of sandwiches).
The city of a little more than 300,000 people and more than 2.3 million in the metro area is the largest city in Appalachia. It also has close ties to steel and aluminum and even coal, as coal is mined in this region of Pennsylvania. In fact, several natural resources companies with Pittsburgh ties had interest in Eastern Kentucky coal mines for decades.
But that’s the past, and what I have learned is that the Steel City is proud of its past, but its future is hinged upon its ability to innovate, collaborate, and leverage its Appalachian ingenuity to create opportunities in the digital economy.
It’s exactly what we are doing in Appalachia Kentucky.
The transformation of Appalachia is not about any one of us or any particular region. It is about our ability to work together and understand that the power of collaborative thinking and the sharing of ideas will get us to the brighter tomorrow we all desire quicker and with more effectiveness.
Ok, back to Pittsburgh.
I am here as part of an East Kentucky cohort for Remake Learning Days. This is a national effort based in Pittsburgh and promotes a regional, grassroots approach to learning activities and celebrations that are family-friendly and innovation driven.
We are proud to partner with Remake Learning Days this year for events across Appalachia Kentucky. Events will be held April 23 through May 2 at more than 90, yes 90, locations!
Traci Tackett, director of digital literacy at Bit Source, is leading this year’s Remake Learning Days – East KY efforts.
She and I spent a few days in Pittsburgh with other regional cohorts from across the country — as far away as San Diego.
While the collaboration and networking was incredible, a quick tour of MuseumLab, a part of the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, was certainly the highlight of the day.
MuseumLab opened in 2019 in the former Pittsburgh Public Library. The facility was built in 1890 and designed by the same architects that built the Library of Congress. It was the first public library built by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie. It was Carnegie’s second library as his first was built in Allegheny, Pennsylvania but was built for his mill-workers and family members.
In 2006, the library closed and the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum stepped in to lead an effort of imagination to re-purpose the building when officials had slated it for demolition.
The former library is now a space where experiences in teaching and learning, most, if not all, being non-traditional or even conventional, is creating synergies for research and sharing among its partners. These partners are organizations like the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning, which is a catalyst of research and studies being shared across the globe.
The space has three labs — Tech, Studio, and Make Labs. Let me briefly describe each.
The Tech Lab is associated with Carnegie Melon University and is aimed to create digital environments for entertainment and gaming with the idea for children to build technology instead of consume technology.
The Studio Lab is a creative space to dive deep into art, techniques, and learn from local and resident artists.
The Maker Lab was one of my favorites. This space is built on the concept that nothing is really old or even new. For example, tech can be a needle and thread or a saw, as much as it can be a laser cutter or even a 3D printer. This approach caught the attention of Google and MuseumLab and the Children’s Museum has partnered with Google and other partners to create 350 such Makerspaces across the globe.
What I came away with was simply this: learning is not traditional and it really can flourish in surroundings that are not so regimented.
What I love is that one of the oldest libraries in the country is now a hub for innovation. The steel beams and historic architecture is present and prevalent in an environment where ideas are created and celebrated, dreams are realized, and lives are transformed.
I’m not jealous. I celebrate these achievements, and our partnership with Remake Learning has opened our eyes to dream bigger and reach higher.
And that’s exactly what we are doing.