West Mifflin Grad Hits Winning Shot with Program

By Bendel, Joe | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 21, 2016 | Go to article overview

West Mifflin Grad Hits Winning Shot with Program


Bendel, Joe, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Classrooms in the West Mifflin and Steel Valley school districts transform into mini "Shark Tanks" when Ryan Maha and Blake Chasen enter the building.

Students in grades 9-12 listen intently as the two teach the nuances of becoming a business owner in their 2-year-old initiative, "Empowering Entrepreneurs."

Maha is a West Mifflin graduate and junior basketball player at Carnegie Mellon University; Chasen, of Chevy Chase, Md., is a former CMU team captain and recent grad.

You might call them the "Mr. Wonderfuls" of the Mon Valley.

"It's refreshing to see someone from this community gaining insights at a great institution, then giving back to the students here," said Brian Aufman, a teacher in West Mifflin's gifted program. "A lot of these kids wouldn't get that opportunity otherwise."

Maha and Chasen's six-month program starts with students, split into groups of 4-6, identifying a perceived problem. They then work diligently to create a solution, often consulting with the duo along the way.

The final phase is a presentation to a panel similar to what viewers see on the popular ABC series, "Shark Tank."

"That's the coolest part," said Maha, a junior guard at CMU who ranked second on the team in scoring last season at 12.3 points per game. "The kids make 5- to 7-minute power-point slide presentations and pitch their company. It's really enjoyable to see them presenting."

One idea that captured the attention of "sharks" Maha, Chasen, West Mifflin superintendent Dan Castagna and vice principal Robert Campana last year was a suggested smart phone app designed to track the location of school buses.

This would alleviate the issue of waiting outside, particularly on cold Pittsburgh mornings, with no certainty when the bus might arrive. And for those running late, the app would indicate if the bus had gone.

A former classmate of Maha's at West Mifflin is currently working with the students to make the app operational.

"There's something similar in Indianapolis, but the kids didn't know that when they presented it to us; it was their idea," said Maha, who's in discussions with local venture capitalists to sit on future "Shark Tank" panels and, potentially, invest in students.

The inspiration for "Empowering Entrepreneurs" came to Chasen during his junior year at CMU. He brought it up to Maha, then a freshman, and learned that the latter had been wrestling with the same idea with a focus on the Mon Valley, where he could give back to his hometown.

The two looked around the CMU campus at many of the brightest young minds in the world and thought to themselves: Why not Mon Valley students? Why can't they achieve similar academic success?

From there, Maha and Chasen went to work. …

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