Renee Tillman was accepted for internship at Carnegie Mellon University’s Children’s School under the guidance of Administrator Margaret Rosenblum. The school’s approach to preschool and kindergarten education is based on theories and research in developmental psychology, as well as years of successful practice. Renee’s interest in psychology and education made an internship with the Children’s School a perfect fit and a wonderful opportunity to experience her intended field firsthand.

Maggie describes Renee as a dependable student who took the internship seriously. The Children’s School supports undergraduate and graduate students studying child development and is known to lead through excellence and innovation. It is also the only facility in Pittsburgh where it is possible to study pre-school children with the controls demanded by research protocols. This setting gave Renee the chance to observe CMU students actually conducting research. Working under her mentor and the talented teaching staff at the Children’s School taught Renee many strategies for redirecting children.

The staff noted that Renee displayed a keen sense of knowing where she was most needed at any given moment. But as observed by many staff, perhaps the most important attribute displayed is that “Renee is extremely kind.” Renee’s internship experience made an impression on her and she expressed an interest in one day working for the office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). Her mentors at the Children’s School were both touched and impressed.

The Robert F. Kennedy Urban Education Award, Mr. Mark Barga, City Charter High School Social Studies Teacher, Selected as the Schools That Can 2017 Robert F. Kennedy Urban Educator

The Schools That Can Forum is an annual, public conference with sessions led and attended by top urban educators from STC schools, innovative education organizations, thought leaders, industry, and community partners. STC held this year’s national annual Forum in Pittsburgh on May 11, 2017.

Mr. Mark Barga receives the Robert F. Kennedy Urban Education Award on behalf of Schools That Can and the STC Pittsburgh Forum. From L to R: Michael Druckman, STC Executive Chairman; Leslie Hiner, Ed Choice Vice President; Mark Barga, City Charter High School Social Studies Teacher; Casey Lamb, STC Chief Operations and Development Officer

Mr. Mark Barga, City Charter High School Social Studies Teacher and Class of 2019 Cultural Literacy Team member, was nominated and won the prestigious national Robert F. Kennedy Urban Educator Award.

This year’s awards were presented to a student, teacher, and school leader from the STC network who have spoken up and spoken out to defend freedom, decency, and justice. 

Schools That Can received dozens of nominees. Specifically, nominees embody Robert F. Kennedy’s quote made as Attorney General in June 1961:

“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted—when we tolerate what we know to be wrong—when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened—when we fail to speak up and speak out—we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.

Mr. Barga exposes students to rigorous, diverse, and critical social, political, economic, and historical perspectives in pursuit of a deeper, relevant engagement with themselves and society. His call to teaching urban youth springs from an intense commitment to social justice for a healthier, more equitable, more just and more democratic society.

City Charter Public High Schools applauds Mark’s recognition as an outstanding educator for the 21st Century, engaging all students in relevant and real world learning that is making a positive difference both in the classroom and the world in which our students will live and eventually lead.

Schools That Can (STC) is the nation’s largest cross-sector network of schools with over 170 schools in 16 cities, reaching more than 70,000 students. Their programming, partnerships, and thought leadership develop tangible solutions to close the opportunity and skills gap in urban education

Posted in News |

Once again, internship mentors have a life-changing effect on a City High student.

City High’s SaKyah Harris with mentor Kristina Hout, Programs Manager at the Humane Society poses for a photo in the operating room where Sakyah was able to observe surgeries performed by the Humane Society veterinarian.

Many people believe that a pet can make a person’s life healthier and happier. In the case of SaKyah Harris, a City High senior, this is so true!

Through her work with hundreds of animals as an intern at the Western PA Humane Society (now merged with the Animal Rescue League), SaKyah began to learn that her passion for animals could be the basis for a career. That’s because when she graduates, she plans to pursue a degree in pre-vet medicine. In many respects, this positive direction comes down to the perceptive career counseling City High offers. Helping all students explore their life’s direction is key to the program. It helps them decide if they really want to commit to a particular field early on in the process and explore various avenues to that end.

SaKyah Harris: By 10th grade, it all clicked.
“I thought, this is a good school – because they give us
laptops and they teach a lot of new things I never
got exposed to. They teach us how to
dress professionally to go into the real world.”

As a City High Charter School student, SaKyah entered freshman year with no real love for school (It was all about the free laptop for her!). But eventually she came to see herself as a real student… even one who would someday go to college. In many respects, it was her internship experience that made all the difference.

“I’m going to college,” reveals SaKyah. But it wasn’t always so. “I hated it the first day. I didn’t want to be there. Didn’t like the clothes [business casual is a requirement]. How they taught was different and even what topics they talked about. I was not used to reading articles or the news or typing into a computer and using technology to learn,” she admits.

But she hung in there.  And by 10th grade, it all clicked. “I thought, this is a good school – because they give us laptops and they teach a lot of new things I never got exposed to. They teach us how to dress professionally to go into the real world.” But it was her senior year internship that sealed the deal.  According to her mentor Kristina Hout, Programs Manager at the Humane Society, “Veterinarian medicine has long been a career interest for SaKyah. She was fortunate to spend time in both the animal care program and the health clinic. She grew her already-strong animal handling and care skills. She is incredibly observant, poised, self-confident and charismatic.”

She also notes that SaKyah’s calm and balanced personality is especially beneficial in this field. SaKyah has already been accepted into Indiana University of Pennsylvania, California University, Penn State Greater Allegheny and the Community College of Allegheny County and is waiting to hear back from several more. So as this promising young lady explores her college options, these traits will come in handy.

During her internship, SaKyah earned an impressive 176 hours (actually she spent over 200 hours because she loved caring for animals so much). Not only did she walk dogs and clean kennels, she also filled out medical sheets, checked on appointments, filed and alphabetized medical records and worked in every part of the facility. She observed surgeries and even learned to draw vaccines. What’s more, SaKyah created a PET Pantry location guide (a database of all food centers within a 2-hour drive) to help those who can’t afford pet food.

For SaKyah Harris, this internship was a dream internship because she loved to care for animals. It was also extra special as the Humane Society only offers internships to college or vet-tech medicine students performing their clinical hours. City High is the only high school participating in this program, and with good reason.  According to the Humane Society’s Kristina Hout, “City High career planning is like a well-oiled machine. The students are very mature and career-focused. They have great perspective about how this internship is going to fit into the rest of their life.” In SaKyah’s case, the internship confirmed her career choice and will lead her to college. And that’s pretty life changing.

About the Humane Society and Animal Rescue League


The Western PA Humane Society has been helping people and their pets in Western Pennsylvania since 1874. As an open door shelter, it provides the most comprehensive, compassionate and humane services to enhance the lives of companion animals for families and the community; to educate and to prevent the cruelty of all animals.

Combining forces with the Animal Rescue League means even more extended community reach, serving more animals and saving more animals. Together these great animal welfare organizations provide temporary shelter, food, medical attention, and comfort to all abandoned, neglected, and injured animals brought to us by the community; to restore lost animals to their owners or seek new homes for them, and to educate the public about the humane care of animals with a goal of reducing overpopulation.

Posted in Internship Sites, News, Student Spotlight |

Ten days of culturally immersed service learning not only teaches students about Costa Rica, but themselves.

City High Service Learning Students team up with teachers and local residence to pave an alleyway, paint a water tank and dig up a pipeline for repair.

City High student hauls hand mixed cement as part of the assembly line to pave an alleyway in La Carpio

La Carpio

We arrived in La Carpio around nine a.m. for day two of our service work in the small community. We were met by friendly greetings from those we were assisting with the paving of an alleyway. Upon putting our bags down, we immediately jumped into action to start shoveling the gravel/sand mix, transporting the buckets full of the mix to the mixer, dumping water, the gravel/sand, and a bag of cement into the mixer, and then using wheelbarrows to move the completed mixture onto the soon-to-be paved alley. The sight was something of an assembly line where each person had a job to fulfill at a certain time, and everything moved seamlessly.

It was quite enjoyable, actually, to watch the progress we were making on a project we had just started the day before. To know that we — students who all had our own cliques and little to no interactions before this trip — were capable of cooperation to the best of our abilities. Despite the heat and dust particles, the completion of the alley and the smiles it produced made the strenuous work all the more worthwhile. I can certainly say that the warm salutations we received from various members of the community, even those not around during our work, has made our time in La Carpio an unforgettable experience. And, the mini party thrown by our hosts had been all the more sweet after a day in the sun.
– by Destiny T.

City High’s students make paving progress in the little town of La Caprio.

La Carpio

La Caprio is a shanty town outside of San Jose. It was built on top of a garbage dump that people moved there to find a better life. Even though La Carpio is seen as a very bad and dangerous community, they are trying to show people that it is good. We are paving the roads, because without paved roads in front of people’s houses they will not be able to own their homes. We are doing something that will change their lives.

– by Jasmine S.

Uncovering the pipes to be replaced in the Rainforest

Painting community water tank in Quebrada Royal

Green house work in the Rain Forest

When work was finished City High students enjoyed the sites of Costa Rica, zip lining, the Poás Volcano and so much more!

Find out how they conquered their fears Visit City High’s Class of 2018 Service learning trip blog at

Service Work in Rainforest – by Krysta E.

Our first full day in the rainforest was dedicated to service work. As a team we split up into 2 groups because there were two different jobs that needed to be done. 12 students went to replace water pipelines. The other 8 students made cement to lay their compost on. I personally was with the students who replaced the water pipe line. I think the work in the rainforest was harder than La Carpio because of the humidity. There was also no shade where I was working, while in La Carpio there was a lot more shade but we were still able to work.

When we arrived at the worksite, I just saw a road with clay/dirt mixture along the right. As a team were told to dig up the dirt and clay to find the pipeline. We had to be very careful not to break the pipeline because water would come flying out and turn the dirt to mud and make the job harder to move the dirt. Once we found the pipeline, we had to follow it and dig until the end.

Our friend Jaido who was using the pickaxe broke the pipeline and water came flying out. This then made it harder for the people working on that part because the dirt became really heavy and hard to move. Once we were able to see the pipeline all the water with room underneath it. It was cut and replaced with a new one. Blue cement glue was used to stick them together. As this point everyone was very tired but we had one more thing to do and that was to cover the pipes with the dirt and clay we just dug up. We didn’t take very long but it felt like a couple of hours. We cleaned the tools and headed towards Miguel’s farm to enjoy the rest of the day.

Our second day in the rainforest was also dedicated to service work. The students that worked with the water pipelines were going to paint today. The students that worked with the cement were told to work at the green house. The teachers needed two students from the pipe line group to move to the greenhouse so both groups were even. Destiny and I volunteered to stay even though we both wanted to paint. Our task for the day was to take dirt from behind the greenhouse and wheelbarrow it into the greenhouse. They needed dirt inside the greenhouse so they plant crops inside for the community. After this job we headed back to our cabins to get ready for soccer with the Costa Ricans later!

The hike into the Rain Forest afforded amazing vistas.


Posted in News, Partnerships |

Alumni Reunion Class of 2008, 2012 and 2016

We are pleased to invite you to our Classes of 2008, 2012, and 2016 Reunion!

June 16th, 2017
At City Charter High School
201 Stanwix Street,Pgh PA 15222

This event is FREE for graduates of the Classes of 2008, 2012 and 2016
We will have lunch, networking, alumni speakers and of course, lots of time to catch up and maybe even watch some end of year slideshows from your time at City High.

To RSVP you must complete this FORM.

Please RSVP by June 6th. The event will be held on June 16th.

Please forward this to anyone from your graduating class who might not be in our system. Also feel free to share this on social media!

As always, please email me with any questions!

Antonietta Riley •
Transition Manager & Alumni Coordinator
City Charter High School
201 Stanwix Street
Pittsburgh PA 15222

Posted in News |

City High’s Nutritional Investment

When City High moved to its new home in the historical Bell Telephone Building in 2012 it only seemed fitting to go “old school” when providing their students with fresh made and affordable choices.

City High's Nutritional Food Service Staff

City High’s Nutritional Food Service Staff From L to R: Michael Gasbarre—Sous Chef, Rich Dyer—Chef and Food Service Manager, Denise Provident —Food Service-Cafeteria Manager, and Lemona Wrencher-Strong—Food Service

Rick Wertheimer, one of City High’s co-founders and the administration knew good nutrition was just another piece of the education puzzle. The new kitchen created a great way to stay in budget, offer fresh made foods to their students, and ultimately aid in higher academic performance. 

Together with PMC Property Group, an architect, and a person who specialized in commercial kitchen planning, City High designed a custom kitchen build-out. The new commercial kitchen allowed their staff with Chef Rich Dyer to create homemade dishes that were both appetizing and affordable while meeting both the State and National School Lunch Program’s (NSLP) strict requirements.


Chef Dyer prepares nutritionally balanced hot entree for students—Stir Fried Rice with Sweet and Sour Chicken.

Embracing NSLP

With the state and NSLP strict nutritional guidelines, and with City High having over 68% (as of 2017) of their students receiving assistance or free lunches, students were required to follow minimum average of fruits, vegetables, proteins, milk and whole grains incorporated into their lunch over each week.

The daily menu of fresh made hot soups, grab and go meals, salads, wraps and hot entrée components are broken down for each week and submitted to NSLP for approval. The challenge of the new state guidelines meant “…we had to find that middle ground that makes the state, kids and parents happy.” “Creating nutritional dishes that kids would eat was the goal,” “…I’d rather have them fed then throwing things away.” Said Chef Richard Dyer. Equally important City High was now able to provide great and enjoyable choices at an affordable price.

Sous Chef, Michael Gasbarre packages just baked breadsticks with mozzarella for arriving students
Food Service-Cafeteria Manager, Denise Provident creates grab-n-go salad choices

Beyond Tater Tots

Students of the old Clark Building location missed their tater tots from an outside Meal Service System. According to Denise Provident, Cafeteria Manager and veteran of the of the food service staff, “…they were a little leery…especially with the new NSLP nutritional regiment…but they loved the choices.” By the end of the first trimester the broader exposure of new foods and solid nutrition had slowly changed students eating habits and favorites were replaced. The big sellers: Roast Beef with Au Jus Dip, Cranberry Chicken Salad, Stir Fried Rice with Sweet and Sour Chicken, Fall Pasta with Rotini and Sausage, Southwest Chicken and Vegetable Gravy over Biscuit, or Steak Salad with a Pittsburgh twist—topped with French Fries and Smoky Tomato Dressing, all from scratch, and then here is the classic Homemade Hand-Rolled Pizza, “This is quite the task when you’re making 33 full sheet trays of pizza, but the students love it.” said Chef Dyer.

Lemona Wrencher-Strong—Food Service

The School Breakfast Program

With a statewide focus to increase nutritional breakfasts for students, City High had around 20-30 students choosing their school cafeteria over the nearby fast food places. After changing things up a bit with daily cartoons and annual trimester gift card raffles and hot option every day and of course assorted breakfast sandwiches, City High now serves around 70 students daily. For a high school in an urban setting, 70 kids is big breakfast attendance!

City High also provides a special hot served breakfast two days a week where Sous-chef; Michael Gasbarre will serve pancakes and sausage links with southern breakfast potatoes and eggs, but they also have choices of whole grain grab-n-go options like cereal, bagels and donuts as well.

Quiet Dining

Students are also given the choice to eat in the main dining hall or they can choose Quite Dining. This gives students who would like to do homework a more peaceful eating setting.

Breaking Bread

Each month after early dismissals the Food Service staff prepares a themed lunch for the staff. The original two founders felt that breaking bread together was important in building comradery and giving everyone the opportunity to share.

They also prepare food for the board meetings as well special events such as Literacy Night. Literacy Night celebrates reading with a giant themed dinner with menu entrees such as Stone Soup, Green Eggs and Ham, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs—it was a hit bringing the community with small children together. Students could later tour the school leaving with a donated care package of books generously donated by the Carnegie Library.

Making the Grade

Responding parents and students give City High food program an A+ on City High’s Niche school profile, but according to the Food Service team the credit goes to the administration who is behind the program 100%, and committed to fresh sound nutrition for their students.

Posted in News |

White Papers: A Workforce Culture program designed based on suggestions from local businesses, companies and universities

Creating the City High Student Profile

City Highʼs co-founders Rick Wertheimer and Mario Zinga started designing the school by creating a profile of the kind of graduate they wanted to produce. During the planning phase, they visited a range of companies and universities to ask them directly, “What are you looking for?” The answer, Wertheimer recalls, “was the same whether you were talking to the physics department at Carnegie Mellon University or the manager of the McDonald’s on the corner: they need to be here on time, responsible in doing their work, work well with others, have good communication skills, and it would be great if they were problem solvers.”

Jessie Foley with mentor Dr. Brandon Lucia—The Abstract Research Lab in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Jessie’s first task was to develop software that would run on the experimental hardware, which required Jessie to independently learn a new development tool chain. Achieving this goal involved a lot of independent learning and discovery. The ability to find resources and learn independently was one of the things that made Jessie so successful during his internship.

Download City High’s
Best Practices—Workforce Culture

From the student’s perspective (Graduating Senior)…

The internship helps you decide what you really want to do, what it is actually like. For me, it confirmed my career choice, but for some of my friends they saw it wasnʼt what they thought at all. The best thing for me was, they treated me like an adult. They acted like I was one of them, like I knew what to do, and I actually did! They helped me, but I was a real employee.

From the teacher’s perspective…

When they come in they all say ʻ“must go to college,” but they have no idea why. We want them thinking about why. What do they want to do and what education is required for that. We have a lot of conversations about what is realistic. We talk a lot about alignment. You never say you canʼt and you wonʼt even if you think it is a long shot but you focus concretely on what is that realistic first step out of high school that is aligned with that goal. We have learned that you have to help them stress test the scenarios against the never-ending stream of life problems that come up. We want them to come out of here with a plan that is realistic and resilient.

Preparing students to succeed in their post high-school paths.
9th Grade

  • What does a professional person look like; act, dress, and speak like?
  • What careers are each student interested in?
  • What is a resume and cover letter?
  • What is a transcript, what is a GPA, and how do they relate to college?

10th Grade

  • Resume & Cover Letter writing.
  • Mock interviews—As the employee and as the employer.

11th Grade

  • Research and plan all post-high school goals including; 2-year and 4-year colleges, military, apprenticeship or employment.
  • 130 Hour required  internship in the community

For more of City High’s Best Practices please visit our research page:

Workforce Culture • Copyright 2011, City Charter High School, All Rights Reserved


Posted in Internship Sites, News |

The Historic Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania is home to City High

The historical 12-story “Modern Movement” building now Co-Exists as a luxury Apartment and a High School immersed in the downtown professional world.

Purchased from the Equitable Life Assurance Society, 201 Stanwix Street would become the home of the The Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania Building.

Construction began September 27, 1956 and was completed in 1957. The Bell Telephone Building was part of the Renaissance 1 urban renewal program to renovate the Point into a mid-century modernist office district. The new buildings in the Renaissance 1 renewal program would replace run-down commercial buildings and a one-time population of rail freight houses.

Designed by Press C. and William C. Dowler, The Bell Telephone Building was designed with an aluminum curtain walls and steel frame design “constructed into the side walk”. The exterior is covered with a red granite base cladding, including a main entrance of red granite pillars and flowerbeds that establish the front entrance. From the base to the second floor are large blocks of grey granite that house window systems of three, decorated with a wide strip of pink ceramic tiles that breaks up the tall windows with alternating panels of grey granite on either side. Spaced around the base of the exterior granite are modern round lamps with a modern design that is repeated into the interior of the building. Upward a modern aluminum design is alternated with windows.

Inside the walls are paneled in granite with suspended modern propel like acoustic insets ceiling tiles and terrazzo floors. Upstairs floors elevators  are separated by vintage inset aluminum mail chutes.

Costing $8.5 million the Bell Telephone Building of Pennsylvania ‘showcases the historical investor’. A granite relief map of Pennsylvania depicting a historical scene and an “inset spinning globe and clock which was installed as a tribute to the global reach of the Bell Telephone system”.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 15, 2011.

In 2012 City Charter High School found its new home in the historical Bell Telephone Building coexisting in a modern format with the luxury apartments in the front and City High students in the back. City High students are proud to be immersed in the business setting of the Pittsburgh Community, with many continuing in Pittsburgh for college life and employment.

Photo Credits: Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center


Fitzpatrick, Dan . “The story of urban renewal.” Post-Gazette. N.p., n.d. Web.


Posted in News, Student Spotlight |

City High’s Alumni Spotlights & Update!

City High is proud to share their alumni success paths and stories with the incoming class, prospective parents and the community, which is an integral part of City Charter High School.

Continue reading

Posted in News, Student Spotlight |

White Papers: Looping transforms teachers and student to be their best.


2017 Junior class picture—Teachers and students journey
through all four years together graduating as a team

A four-year loop not only allows teachers to learn and identify their students’ comprehension styles, it also creates a bond of care and trust.


Download City High's Best Practices—LOOPING
Download City High’s
Best Practices—LOOPING

When I started 9th grade and heard we would have these same teachers until we graduated, I was like ‘Are you serious? This is going to kill me. I can’t take some of these people another year.’ But now I think ‘I really understand where the teacher is coming from and I try to relate to them the way they are relating to me.’ I thought I would get sick of seeing the same people every day. Now I think it is helping me learn better because my teachers know who I am.

The main thing is, it is easier to get help and guidance when you really know them. It makes it easier to learn. Asking for help is the big thing. You just don’t think twice—you are not scared what they might say or if they might think you are dumb. Presenting in front of the class used to scare me more than anything in the world. Now I was a little jittery but I am just so used to these students and teachers, it is much more comfortable. In the 9th grade my heart would beat so fast and I wouldn’t know what to say but now I trust no one is going to make fun of me. They know me. They are actually interested in what I am going to say. Now with teachers, I can be joked with. I never really had that with adults before. It used to bother me when a teacher would joke with me—it would make me scared to talk to them. Now it makes me want to work harder, like they are teasing me because they want to push me a little, because they care that I am going to do well.

I mean they know when you have a real problem and are not just making excuses. It is more economical because they are not wasting so much spare time and energy trying to figure you out, which lets the whole class learn more. I think it must take the stress load off the teacher really understanding the students and why they are acting that way. In 9th grade they had to be a lot stricter and by the book but each year the whole relationship gets more relaxed and comfortable. It is more like a family environment because they know our quirks and our good qualities. It is a more warm and welcoming feeling. They have more experience with us so they understand our day to day problems that affect how we learn. It just takes a while to get to that point and after 9th grade we started the year already there.


Teaching so much different content is the biggest challenge. As a science teacher we have to have all the certifications. My background is physics so teaching biology was difficult. The first loop was very hard, staying ahead of the content, always teaching out of my comfort zone. I was looking for another job after my first trimester. But having gone through once, it is much easier. I am focusing less on managing the classroom and more on the curriculum. The first time through I was reading a unit ahead of the students; I had to restudy it myself. But in doing that I really enjoyed it because I was learning new things I was excited about and passing that along to the students. In teaching the same thing year after year you get bored.

Now that I have seen the whole curriculum I see the big picture, the end result of what I am looking for. Physics is less important than problem solving and experimenting and what science really is. Not knowing equations but: can you use these tools to solve a problem? In my mind teaching the whole loop redefined what science is to these kids. Moving through the whole science curriculum with a group of kids changed my focus more to helping them to see that this thing we do can be useful to them in their life…trying to find real everyday applications. Not teaching to the test, teaching to their life. I feel like a changed teacher. Going through the loop changed my whole idea of what the science is and how to teach it to them—more the skills and concepts. By seeing the growth of the students and how they progress, it helps me envision how other students may progress and plan accordingly.

The powerful thing is, if they aren’t getting it, you can’t just move them on and not worry about it anymore—that is your problem. You can’t ignore the gaps—it gives you some type of long term responsibility to get them where they need to be. That is so important—so missing—in urban schooling generally. Plus you have the deep knowledge of the learner to do it. Not just the relationship part—although that is huge. It is by far the most different and important and powerful thing about this school—not just the relationship but the responsibility you feel. I will take these kids through. When they take the state exams we will see how I have done. That increased accountability benefits the kids and it really lets me see the impact I am making.

For more of City High’s Best Practices please visit our research page:

Looping • Copyright 2011, City Charter High School, All Rights Reserved


Posted in News, School Videos |

City High’s Jessie Foley gets opportunity of a lifetime — works with emerging technology at the Carnegie Mellon Electrical and Computer Engineering research lab.


Jessie Foley with mentor Dr. Brandon Lucia. Dr. Lucia won the 2015 Bell Labs Prize for his work to make intermittent computer systems operate reliably while using only the tiny amounts of energy that they can “harvest” from their environment, like radio waves and indoor lights.

Growing up, Jessie Foley was always a bit different. He knew he was smart
and he knew that this didn’t always make him popular in school. And that’s why City High was the perfect choice for Jessie.

City High surrounded Jessie with other smart kids, so he didn’t feel out of place. But it also gave him the opportunity to pursue his real love – computers. After all, there is a robotics team and even a 3D printer.

It was his internship experience, however, that taught the best lessons. As the first City High student to earn a coveted internship spot in Assistant Professor Brandon Lucia’s research lab in Carnegie Mellon University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Jessie learned plenty about emerging computer technology. He even taught himself Ubuntu Linux, and the Python, and C, and C++ programming languages. But Jessie also learned some even more valuable personal lessons. “I learned I’m not the only geek out there,” he admits. “I worked with some PhD students at CMU (Alexei, from Moldova and Vignesh, from India) and almost every other word they said went right over my head. But they were kind enough to help me understand it and push my learning a little further.” He learned it was okay to be wrong about things and not know everything. He also learned that he could find answers and solutions if he put his mind to it.


“Jessie’s project was to build a system using an experimental computer platform called the MicroBit, which was developed by Microsoft Research, an industry-leading computer science research lab.”

According to his mentor Brandon Lucia, a real-game changer in the computer world who was awarded the 2015 Bell Labs Prize, “I think one of the strong suits that Jessie had during his internship was the ability to work independently and decide, ‘These are the tools I need to use, so I’m going to go and learn how to use these tools.’ And that’s the right attitude for research; you figure out what you need to do and you go out and do that thing.”

As Jessie heads off to a degree in computer science from either Penn State or University of Pittsburgh, Jessie will apply that lesson to life. He will “figure out what he needs to succeed and go out and do that thing”. Hopefully at Google or AutoDesk.

Without City High’s inclusive nature, innovative techniques and supportive teachers none of this could have happened. Jessie admits, “Looping is a great part of this school. It really does allow you to get to know your teachers. I know a few of my teachers told me they used to be programmers and they really helped me learn how to get into the field myself. There’s a teacher on the senior side that uses Python (a popular programming language) and I’m not in the class myself, but he still stops by and gives me some challenges to work on every now and then. He talks to me about it and helps me advance myself.”


Jessie’s first task was to develop software that would run on the experimental hardware, which required Jessie to independently learn a new development tool chain. Achieving this goal involved a lot of independent learning and discovery. The ability to find resources and learn independently was one of the things that made Jessie so successful during his internship.

Jessie has stacked up a list of achievements at City High: a 3.54 GPA, a Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship, a place on the Robotics team, a coveted internship in his field, a member of the City High student tech team that actually maintains the school’s computers. He’s also landed scholarships at TechShop Pittsburgh, one of only 13 sites worldwide to provide students with access to instruction, tools, software and space to build their dreams. Currently he’s in an after-school program entitled Advanced Inventor Sessions.

But even with all this going for him, Jessie admits he struggled a little with basics. Perhaps this is yet another reason why City High was the best choice for him. Jessie recalls, “My old school didn’t go over long division well. But my City High math teacher did get me to learn… she beat it into my head basically. I was in her honors class and every day felt like a headache, but I knew I was learning. My old school… I did not feel like I was learning anything back then. She really goes far and makes sure everyone learns what they need to.”

That makes all the difference.

The Abstract Research Lab in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, headed by Dr. Brandon Lucia


Jessie Foley with mentor Dr. Brandon Lucia.
Dr. Lucia won the 2015 Bell Labs Prize for his work to make intermittent computer systems operate reliably, while using only the tiny amounts of energy that they can “harvest” from their environment, like radio waves and indoor lights.

The Abstract Research Lab in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering focuses on computer architecture and computer systems, in particular large-scale parallel computer systems and energy harvesting computer systems. The scientists there specialize in abstract research and do exploration into the boundary between computer architecture, computer systems, and programming languages.

Headed up by Dr. Brandon Lucia, the research team has developed a new class of intelligent computer systems that use novel hardware and software techniques to operate reliably using intermittent or unreliable power. These systems will enable application developers to create high-reliability applications for intermittent systems that will form an essential part of the Internet of Things, effectively extending the reach of computing, sensing, and communication technology into environments with scarce energy, such as inside the body and in space.

According to Dr. Lucia, “We make it easier for application developers to tell the computer what to do and we do that in the context of emerging technology. One of these emerging technologies (also the subject of Jessie’s internship) was something called “energy harvesting”. This involves tiny computers that can extract energy from their environment. You may have seen this in solar panels, they can take sun and turn it into electricity to run a computer.”

He adds, “We’ve been developing software run-time support, operating system support, new programming languages and ways for application developers to interact with systems. It should be as easy to make an application for your energy-harvesting device as it is for your iPhone today. That’s our goal.”

Dr. Brandon Lucia is the winner of the 2015 Bell Labs Prize for his work on OIC (operating system for intermittent computing).

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