City Semester students become architects of sustainability in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — Penn State students Jackie Zheng and Sarah Fetter spent the summer in Pittsburgh, not to vacation, but to gain knowledge about a future in sustainability through the City Semester program facilitated by the Penn State Center Pittsburgh.

Zheng is enrolled in the bachelor of architecture program in the College of Arts and Architecture and the Schreyer Honors College. As an intern with the City Semester program, he had the opportunity to work on several projects involving research and design with Riverlife — an organization dedicated to the redevelopment of Pittsburgh’s downtown riverfronts.

“My research projects involved finding and analyzing case studies of resilient, inclusive riverfront developments and affordable housing models. These projects will provide Riverlife with references for future projects along the riverfront,” Zheng said. “One project is the Manchester Community Market which we hope will bring together community partners to activate and celebrate spaces in the Manchester neighborhood. This project is centered around Giant Eagle’s Mobile Market, which provides weekly groceries to Manchester because they do not have a neighborhood grocery store.”

Sarah Fetter is majoring in earth sciences with a minor in sustainable leadership in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and worked as an intern with Covestro’s North American Headquarters based in Pittsburgh. The German-based company produces a variety of polyurethane and polycarbonate materials using efficient cost and ecologically compatible technologies. As an intern, Fetter became a part of Covestro’s communications and government relations teams. She said her research into corporate social responsibility (CSR) and governance of companies was to assist the company in its sustainability efforts, and to be aware of possible changes and restrictions on the horizon.

“A lot of my projects encompassed research and my hope is that this research can help the company plan their CSR work and sustainable manufacturing efforts,” Fetter said. “I was also on the winning team in Covestro’s annual Intern Sustainability Challenge which means our proposal will be considered in the company’s actionable plans for carbon emission reductions. My hope is that the research I did for that proposal can help Covestro set the example for other corporations so we can see big industries tackle the climate change crisis.”

Ben Renwick is the STEM education lead in Sustainability, Community Engagement and Outreach for Covestro. He assists with creating learning experiences for students who aspire to go into a STEM related field.

“Sarah’s main project has revolved around the research of state level policies and bills that impact Covestro. These bills include advanced recycling, extended producer, and recycled content, all of which are to be summarized and made easily accessible for our employees,” Renwick said. “She has been pulled into many different projects with our team, from advocacy to government affairs and community outreach with school students. The exposure for her to learn about the different aspects of sustainability and what it means to a company like Covestro shows what types of career paths are available in the chemical industry,”

Renwick said the work the interns do with the City Semester program, not only assists them to find a future career in sustainability, but it also benefits Pittsburgh communities.

“City Semester students get an inside look at what companies and other organizations are doing as leaders in sustainability and climate action. It’s a great experience for undergrad students to not only take a course in sustainability, but to also gain an understanding of the real-world challenges and solutions,” Renwick said. “There is no easy street or silver bullet to solve all the challenges within Pittsburgh so hearing and learning from a younger audience is beneficial to the city.”

Look inside the City Semester experience in this short video.

If you are a student or company, organization or agency interested in learning more about participating in City Semester, visit the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, a service of Penn State Outreach.

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