Engineering marvels that changed the world through their innovation

There are some structures and engineering marvels that defy our imagination; projects that engineers with vision and expertise created and overcame incredible obstacles to complete.

The Panama Canal, for example, was and still is an engineering masterpiece that changed the world by slashing global shipping and transit times. For example, a ship sailing between New York and San Francisco saves nearly eight thousand miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn.

The Panama Canal and nine other engineering feats are featured in a new History Channel article highlighting the 10 “engineering marvels” that changed the world.

Christopher Klein, history author and writer, published the list and he appears on Smart Talk Thursday to talk about the projects that made the cut. Klein is also the author of When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom and Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan, America’s First Sports Hero.

Audit of U.S. monuments reveal common traits and a reverence for war-fighters

The bronze Columbus monument has overlooked Schenley Drive since 1958.

The Christopher Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza in Philadelphia was “boxed” after the site became a location for violent protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

A Commonwealth court recently ruled it will remain covered for the time being. The ruling comes at a time when monuments around the country are garnering public attention by their presence and who they represent.

The Monument Lab recently completed an audit to assess the current monument landscape in the U.S. The findings are part of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monument project which intends to “transform the way our country’s histories are told in public spaces and ensure that future generations inherit a commemorative landscape that venerates and reflects the vast, rich complexity of the American story.”

Paul Farber, Ph.D., is the Co-Founder of Monument Lab and Co-Director of the Audit and he appears on Smart Talk Tuesday with Naima Murphy Salcido, Director of Partnerships for the Monument Lab.


Federal flood insurance rates changing and policy owners could feel the pinch

Changes are coming to the way flood insurance rates are determined under the Federal Flood Insurance Program, which could raise rates significantly for some policy owners.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency administers the program for the Federal government and they contend that changes to the pricing method will mean that policy prices will be more fair, particularly for lower-cost properties.

The new pricing method is known as Risk Rating 2.0 and it took effect on October 1. People living in areas vulnerable to hurricanes and heavy rain, often along the coasts, are most affected by the change.

Joining Smart Talk Tuesday to share how consumers could be impacted here are Rich Sobota Insurance Specialist, FEMA Region 3 and David Buono, Acting Pennsylvania Deputy Insurance Commissioner, Office of Market Regulation.


Older people’s risk of falling made worse by pandemic

Older people’s risk of falling made worse by pandemic

Seniors are at a greater risk of falling with age. This is due in large part to changes in physical strength, mobility and balance.

FILE PHOTO: Ita Aber, right, stops by the table of her old friend Rita Shliselberg after she finished dinner at RiverWalk, an independent senior housing facility, in New York, Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Falls can be deadly, too, particularly because of the dangers of head injuries. The pandemic has increased the risk to seniors because of isolation and inactivity, and experts worry the full extent of the impact is still unknown.

Dr. Rollin Wright, MD, Geriatric Medicine, Internal Medicine Penn State Health and Dr. Ayesha Ahmad, MD, Geriatric Medicine, Internal Medicine Penn State Health appear on Smart Talk Tuesday to look at the risks and offer insight to avoid falls.

For more on health considerations plus a deeper look at the changing tide of healthcare, check out WITF’s Transforming Health. Online at, a partnership of WITF, WellSpan Health and Capital Blue Cross.

Author of one of the most comprehensive books on Flight 93 appears on Smart Talk

Flight 93: The Story, the Aftermath, and the Legacy of American Courage on 9/11 may be one of the most complete accounts of the hijacking of United Flight 93. That was the one plane taken over by terrorists that didn’t reach its final destination.

The plane crashed in a rural area of Somerset County, Pennsylvania while passengers struggled to gain control from the hijackers. The passengers had already learned during cell phone calls with family members that terrorists had crashed three other aircraft in New York and Washington.

As part of WITF’s 9/11:20 Years Later programming this week, the book’s author, Tom McMillan joins us on Smart Talk.

New book documents 20 years of war and what went wrong in Afghanistan

The United States’ messy withdrawal and the quick Taliban takeover of Afghanistan shouldn’t have been a surprise after one reads the new book The Afghanistan Papers – A Secret History of the War by Pulitzer Prize nominated Washington post reporter Craig Whitlock.

Using resources that included oral histories and internal documents Whitlock details “the U.S. government’s strategies were a mess, the statistics were distorted, the nation-building project was a colossal failure and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government.”

Whitlock describes how the U.S. often didn’t know who the enemy was, spent huge amounts of money with little to show for it, and knew nothing about Afghan culture.

As part of WITF’s 9/11: 20 Years Later programming this week, Wednesday’s Smart Talk features a conversation with Craig Whitlock.

The impact of learning loss on the horizon as schools set to reopen

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps education has been the aspect of our lives that has been disrupted the most.

The end of the 2019-20 school year and the entire 2020-2021 year have been unlike any that schools, teachers and students have ever experienced. In most cases, educators have tried their best to conduct classes either in-person with masking and social distancing required or online or a combination of both. Even with innovation and lots of imagination, the conditions were not conducive for learning like in a normal class setting.

Some students and parents handled the unusual circumstances better than others. Parents have been given the option of holding their child back a year. Still others are concerned about what’s been described as learning loss during the past year and a half.

What should schools expect to see and how can they help children recover from the deficits?

Appearing on Smart Talk Wednesday are Dr. Bernard Harris, MD, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, Lyndsey Sturkey, Senior Director of Programs, Communities in Schools of PA, and Lauren Beal, Ed., D., Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 and a Pennsylvania STEM Ambassador.


Forest fires rage across the western US, how vulnerable is Pennsylvania to fire risk?

Forest fires are ravaging the western US, burning more than 1.5 million acres in 12 states. Wildfire smoke is so extensive it has created hazy sky conditions as far east as New York State.

Firefighters are struggling to respond to the changing fire situation, including weather forecasts that do little to improve the poor conditions in the drought-stricken states.

How vulnerable is Pennsylvania to wildfire risk and what resources does the state have to combat the threat to forests and residents?

Mike Kern, Bureau of Forestry’s Division of Forest Fire Protection chief within the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources appears on Smart Talk Thursday to detail their plan to prevent and suppress wildfires.

Author Phillip Rucker on the final year in the Trump White House

It’s not an exaggeration to say the United States has never had a president like Donald Trump. It’s also not a stretch to say that Trump’s last year in office was unlike any other.

A once in a century pandemic, nation-wide protests and a racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd and a presidential election that Trump, and others, have screamed was stolen from him were the backdrop for a White House that bounced from one crisis to another.

That year is documented in the new book I ALONE CAN FIX IT: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Philip Rucker, co-author and senior Washington correspondent at The Washington Post. Phillip Rucker joins Smart Talk Thursday to share details of the book and insights from his years covering the Trump White House.

Sen. Casey proposes a revived Civilian Conservation Corps to combat climate change and create jobs

The Senate on Tuesday advanced a bipartisan infrastructure deal that had been hung up on finance details. The Biden administration has promoted the plan as important to creating and sustaining a green economy to create jobs and fix crumbling infrastructure around the country.

Recognizing the added challenge of climate change, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania recently introduced legislation that would renew the Civilian Conservation Corps. The first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a work relief program established in the 1930s to employ millions of young men to work on environmental projects during the Depression. The CCC is credited with developing the national and state park systems throughout the country.
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Sen. Casey appears on Smart Talk Thursday to offer details on the legislation (REVIVE the CCC Act S.2414) that would give local communities the authority to design and manage future CCC projects.