BELLE, W.Va. — Computer science students are designing their very own transit systems for the New River Gorge National Park to get a better idea of what the future of transportation in the region will look like.

Nearly 100 9th through 12th grade students at Riverside High School in Belle showed off their math and coding skills to West Virginia Department of Education officials Wednesday with the model transits they designed.

It’s one of the West Virginia STEAM Technical Assistance Center’s (TAC) hands-on workforce and learning activities, specifically an immersion project for high school students known as Coding a Better Path.

STEAM TAC STEAM Education Specialist Cliff Sullivan, who was leading Wednesday’s project, said it deals with next generation transportation.

Cliff Sullivan

“What the students are doing is designing a PRT track in the New River Gorge to alleviate the infrastructure and parking issues with the influx of tourism,” Sullivan told MetroNews.

Sullivan said the computer science-based project consists of the students placing “color action snaps,” or small colored tiles, and putting them on the model track. He said the students then, using computer coding, control those colors to perform different functions depending on the problem at hand.

He further explains how it works with the computer program and the Bluetooth-connecting train.

“We utilize a small model PRT that’s called an intelino Smart Train, and we use Scratch Coding platform, that was developed by MIT, to connect those two together, and then the students can put whatever blocks they choose to make the train do different things,” he said.

Sullivan said AI technology, automation, coding, high-tech cameras, and self-driving cars are all starting to integrate themselves into our day-to-day lives already and it’s starting to rapidly transform and evolve several industries, including transportation.

Finding solutions to come up with and implement modern transportation infrastructure to accommodate the growing influx of people is something which Sullivan said is a real, hyperlocal issue in the state.

He said the project not only allows the students to look at and address the issue, but it gives them an idea about their future.

“They’re also being exposed to computer science, a lot of kids have never coded anything before, and they’re being exposed to the pathways to where they can get employment in the transportation industry,” said Sullivan.

Riverside High Robotic and Computer Science Business Teacher, Rebecca Cooper’s Computer Science A and Computer Science AP classes were who was conducting the project Wednesday.

Cooper said she believes it’s important that her students see the connection between computer coding and the real-world.

“It’s opening up a good avenue for them to be able to learn about the New River Gorge and the area, and how they can actually apply real-world experiences to their coding,” Cooper said.

Colin Campbell is a tenth grade student at Riverside and in one of the computer science classes that was getting to design the project.

He said depending on what you choose to go into, he knows how useful this knowledge is in the real-world.

“I’ve always been interested in stuff like this and its been a really fun experience just to learn all of the block-base coding and there’s other stuff that goes into it too, like Python and all that,” he said.

Campbell said he may go into a computer science-based field himself one day. He said he is considering a career in cyber security as one future option.

After launching in December 2021, STEAM TAC has reached more than 37,000 students and nearly 500 teachers at over 350 middle and high schools in the state. It’s a program to help educate and advance the student’s knowledge of computer science and STEAM by exposing them to science and engineering-type projects, as well as to real-world and related career pathways.

The program operates under the direction of the West Virginia Department of Education, the WV Public Education Collaborative, and WVU.

Sullivan said any educator in the state for grades 5 through 12 can visit STEAM TAC online and sign up for the immersion program, and they can bring the project and related learning materials right to their classroom.