Into Thin Air: A look into why the air surrounding us is so important

By: Lo Hutelmyer, Venture Outdoors Youth Program Manager and Brittney Aston, Venture Outdoors Trip Leader Specialist

It is generally known that poor air quality can lead to serious health problems. That’s exactly why Venture Outdoors and Women for a Healthy Environment have teamed up. These organizations are working together to share their knowledge with students in a fun, interactive way at several after-school programs around the Pittsburgh area.

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Air quality lessons are just a few of the regular outdoor programs that Venture Outdoors facilitates with its six after-school and school partners: Mt. Ararat in East Liberty; Providence Connections and Manchester Academic Charter School on the North Side; the Center that C.A.R.E.S. in the Hill District; and the Brashear Association and A Giving Heart in Allentown. Through the Youth Outdoor Recreation Program (YORP), Venture Outdoors Trip Leaders meet twice monthly with over 130 area youth in grades K-6 to engage in outdoor recreation and to educate them on environmental topics including air quality.

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On these particular air quality lessons, the Venture Outdoors Trip Leaders were assisted by Chelsea Holmes from Women for a Healthy Environment, another Pittsburgh organization that is focused on educating the public on healthy living. These lessons allow the students to measure the amount of particulate matter in the air through what is known as a Speck monitor – a small, easy-to-use device that can be plugged into a power source and visually shows changes in the level of particulate matter in the air on a screen. These monitors were developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Create lab and can be checked out by anyone from the Carnegie Library. Chelsea and her co-workers at Women for a Healthy Environment have worked with students in using the Speck monitors before but have never been able to bring these lessons outside – until now.

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In order to bring the monitors outside, Venture Outdoors provided portable solar power systems donated by Green Mountain Energy. Similar in size and shape to a standard briefcase, the solar power systems have a portion of a photovoltaic (PV) panel on one side and a flashlight on the other. Energy from the sun hitting the PV panel is converted into electricity that is then utilized to power up a small device that is plugged into the outlet – in this case, the Speck monitor. With two portable solar power systems, students were able to plug in the Speck monitors in various locations outdoors in order to enhance the lesson and increase the amount of data they were able to collect. Additionally, the students were able to see first hand how a solar panel works.
Students recorded the detected fine particulate matter and monitored the changes and trends in particle concentration while spraying hair spray, Axe body spray, baby powder, and even water into the air!

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Students were amazed at how these everyday products change the quality of our air. After using baby powder in the same area as a Speck monitor, students observed the fine particles (PM2.5) raise to over 1,600! This definitely made the students rethink the use of products regularly utilized in their homes.
It’s easy to forget exactly what you are doing to the air around you because you can’t specifically see the damages. That is why Speck monitors are so crucial to this lesson plan and learning development.

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OUTDOOR News

  • 10 Adventure Photographers that will Inspire You to Get Outside

    February 21, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Communications Intern

    Climbing, hiking, skiing! What’s your favorite outdoor activity?
    These 10 adventure photographers, categorized by sport, will inspire you to get outside no matter what the weather. They’ll have you dreaming of tropical waters, rocky cliff sides, and snow covered slopes all at the same time!

    1. Skiing- Jimmy Chin
    North Face athlete and adventure photographer Jimmy Chin spends his days climbing and skiing in the mountains. In particular he pushes skiing to the extreme, and is among an elite group of people who have skied Everest from the summit!

     » Read more about: 10 Adventure Photographers that will Inspire You to Get Outside  »

  • Venture Outdoors vs. Florida Outfitter

    February 14, 2017

    By: Nancy Latimer

    Venture Outdoors may be a nonprofit with volunteer Trip Leaders, but it’s not a rinky dink operation. Venture Outdoors has rigorous training to ensure that all Trip Leaders follow the same format including the planning, the introduction, the safety, and the experience. Recently, I was on vacation in southwest Florida and went on an Everglades kayak tour with a commercial outfitter. Many of the Venture Outdoors checklist items were the same as my Everglades trip, but Venture Outdoors covered things more thoroughly. I was impressed that Venture Outdoors trips are on par or better!

     » Read more about: Venture Outdoors vs. Florida Outfitter  »

  • Running Outdoors in a Pittsburgh Winter

    February 7, 2017

    AN ESSENTIAL EMBER
    By: Suni Lynn Lee

    Outside the temperature hovers around 10 degrees. As I stand staring out the window, watching the wind whip the snow into sparkling spirals, I feel motivation oozing out of me. Inside it is toasty warm, and I shiver at the thought of stepping out into the cold to begin my run. But, I turn away from the window, thinking, “Today is my day to run, and I will run.”

    Dressed in layers, I feel like an abominable snowman. I stuff soft cotton into my ears, pull a wool stocking cap onto my head,

     » Read more about: Running Outdoors in a Pittsburgh Winter  »

  • Women in Nature Hike

    January 31, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Communications Intern

    During the summer months here in Pittsburgh, adventurous women from all around the city participate in Venture Outdoors’ popular Women on the Water (WOW) programs. But, as the kayaks at North Park and on the rivers have been put away for some time now, it was time to lace up our hiking boots and try something new. 

    So, this year for the first time ever, Venture Outdoors offered the very first Women in Nature Hike! Over 25 excited women met in North Park on January 22 for a leisurely Sunday morning hike in the woods,

     » Read more about: Women in Nature Hike  »

  • Getting to Know Our Staff: Fifteen Questions with… Ken Sikora

    January 24, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Communications Intern

    There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes brain power that goes into planning your favorite programs, be it public, family-friendly, or custom outings. Learn about those who work inside so you can get outside.

    This week we’ll be interviewing Ken Sikora, our Head Trip Leader Specialist.Ken

    1. Briefly tell us about your background: where did you grow up, where did you go to school, and what brought you to Venture Outdoors?

    I was born and raised in Munhall, just south of Downtown. I went to California University of PA and studied Parks and Recreation Management.

     » Read more about: Getting to Know Our Staff: Fifteen Questions with… Ken Sikora  »

Featured Outing

 

Outdoor Leadership Training
Sunday, February 28
9 AM – 5 PM

This day-long, classroom-based training is designed to improve your leadership skills in a format that fits your schedule. The eight-hour course is a fast-paced mix of skill training, awareness development and fun.

SIGN UP HERE!