Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center at Penn State

The Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center at Penn State connects the Pittsburgh region with the University’s faculty, staff, and programs to support healthy, sustainable, innovative, and equitable communities through research, local outreach, engaged scholarship, and educational opportunities — distinct from those available at University Park.

The Center is in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District, adjacent to the city’s Golden Triangle, in the LEED Platinum–certified Energy Innovation Center. Our offices are also home to staff from Penn State Allegheny County Extension, Readiness Institute at Penn State, and Penn State Career Services.

Our Mission

The Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center facilitates mutually beneficial connections to address local needs with community-based partners in collaboration with faculty and students to support sustainable neighborhoods and communities in the Pittsburgh region, resulting in a collective impact consistent with Penn State’s Land-Grant mission.


In 2023, the Center engaged 128 students in more than 4,200 combined hours of for-credit or noncredit programs. That programming includes our three-week Pittsburgh High-Performance Building Summer Program in collaboration with South West College in Northern Ireland, the Landscape Architecture Pittsburgh Studio in Coraopolis, the Remix Rowhouse Architecture Studio in Homewood, the EMS GeoPEERs summer field trip, and the City Semester Pittsburgh program with students from six different Penn State colleges.

Our collaboration with our local workforce development partner, Landforce, involved training 19 of their crew members through their EPA Brownfields Job Training Grant. We provided our 35-hour noncredit National Green Infrastructure Certification Program (NGICP) to Landforce trainees as part of their workforce development program, which has resulted in an 85 percent placement rate and 91 percent retention rate after one year.

We are really thankful to have participated in the City Semester program now for the third time. All the students have far exceeded our expectations across the board with their level of interest, motivation, enthusiasm, intelligence, and problem-solving skills. We think the students received an immersed experience in policy advocacy and in return, we received meaningful contributions to our organization!

—City Semester community partner

Student and Faculty Engagement

The Pittsburgh Center offers a variety of engaged scholarship opportunities to help students gain valuable experience and knowledge through service projects, internships, and immersive learning. One program, City Semester Pittsburgh, is open to Penn State students of all majors. Modeled after study abroad programs, students live, learn, and intern in the Pittsburgh region for a semester and participate as a cohort in the EARTH 412 Urban Sustainability course, fulfilling requirements for their major or the interdisciplinary sustainability leadership minor.

I was able to explore a new city, meet local and state leaders, and find a new career path in my field of agricultural sciences. As a Black woman, I was able to give back to my community and be a mentor for Black youth. This internship expanded my understanding of agriculture beyond the grass fields of State College. I have found a niche where I truly belong.

—City Semester student

Our role in place-based research with Penn State faculty in Pittsburgh includes supporting Penn State teams, in collaboration with our community partners, to address local issues and includes the following projects:

  • NSF CIVIC Grant: Leveraging existing fiber-optic cables to identify and manage urban environmental hazards
  • IEE Seed Grant: Connecting policies to actions for creating just, biodiverse, and climate-resilient urban forests
  • IEE Seed Grant: Community engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration to direct air-quality research at industrial sites near Pittsburgh
  • Hamer Center & IEE Seed Grants: Engaging youth in underserved neighborhoods for assessing the physical environment for physical activity, with lessons learned and outcomes for advocacy​

The Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center at Penn State is the nexus between the University and the Pittsburgh region. We offer unique opportunities for collaboration with Penn State faculty, staff, and programs through research, engaged scholarship, community engagement, and educational opportunities that make a difference for all.

—Tom Bartnik, Director

Visit the Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center at Penn State