Decade of innovation: USCHS STEAM course hits 10-year mark

Upper St Clair Twp School District  |  Posted on

Mr. Peskorski kicks off the latest round of student STEAM presentations to corporate executives.

Six teams of Upper St. Clair High School students recently presented their work to a panel of professionals from EAFab Corp as part of the Honors STEAM Innovation & Consulting course. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the course that tasks students with solving real-world challenges faced by organizations and corporations.

Throughout the last decade, Upper St. Clair students have worked with engineers and other executives from companies that have included EAFab, Eaton Corp, All Clad Metalcrafters LLC, Universal Electric, OZ Enterprises and Tom Brown, Inc. The course was developed by Fred Peskorski, technology education teacher, in collaboration with colleagues Brian Garlick and Tom Isaac from South Fayette High School, both of whom have since retired from teaching.

“My favorite part about this course is seeing the maturation of the students as they go from largely theoretical learning to actual problem-solving while working with professionals,” Mr. Peskorski said. “It’s also very interesting to see the diverse set of problems that our corporate partners bring to us each year.”

The problems are varied in scope and often require students to explore new subject areas that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about. Most recently, each student team was presented with a specific challenge to research and develop solutions for EAFab. Problems ranged from developing an automated inventory process to designing storage racks that can securely hold pipes and other supplies with a weight capacity of up to 1,500 pounds.

This set of presentations marked the first time that students have used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to accomplish their goal.

“Like most teachers, I have some reservations about the appropriate use of AI,” Mr. Peskorski said. “But, like so many disruptive technologies that have come before, I think it’s best to find a way to responsibly incorporate it into our courses when applicable.”

Students Henry Ginsburg, Amanda Aidar and Luke Ralyea were tasked with developing an app or algorithm to more efficiently use pipe resources, ultimately reducing waste and saving money. Creating the algorithm required significant coding. By leveraging AI, the students were able to work beyond their skill level in order to achieve their goal.

“The students used AI to help them solve their problem,” Mr. Peskorski said. “It was a very interactive experience that taught them how to use AI effectively, while also learning about the code writing process itself.”

Using AI to help write the code required some trial and error, which provided a great lesson in prompt optimization. By refining the text of their AI request, they could achieve more accurate results.

“As long as students are open about how they leverage its use to find the best possible solution for our partners, I applaud the effort,” Mr. Peskorski said. “In many cases, these young students will be able to open the eyes of some of their older corporate counterparts to the potential of AI.”

One of the benefits of this course is that students get to see a variety of types and sizes of industries. “They have experience working with relatively small local companies to international multi-billion-dollar companies,” Mr. Peskorski said. “In each case, our students tour the manufacturing facilities as well as the front office spaces. It can only be beneficial for them to see both the similarities of these companies, but also the different challenges that they face.”

Next, the Honors STEAM Innovation & Consulting students will be working with Eaton Corp and then All-Clad to finish the semester. Mr. Peskorski is confident that this course will help prepare students for life beyond high school.

“If correspondence from former students is any indication, they will go on to college and industry a step ahead of most of their peers no matter what the major or occupation,” he said. “I am fortunate to have formed lasting relationships with many of my former STEAM students and without exception, they all found great value in having taken this course.”

Over the last decade, the course has impacted hundreds of Upper St. Clair High School graduates.

“It’s always a treat when I receive a random email from a former student thanking me for the experiences that they had in this class,” Mr. Peskorski said. “I don’t know that students truly appreciate how special this class is until after they finish and have time to reflect on it.”