WCU students win top prizes at energy summit

Students in Western Carolina University’s computer science and environmental science programs presented their capstone projects at the Appalachian Energy Summit in Boone and returned to WCU with two grand prizes.

WCU students won first place in the research category for the environmental capstone titled “Sustainable Transportation for WCU Commuter Students” and first place in the project category for the computer science capstone titled “Tracking System to Improve Campus Shuttle Sustainability.”

“We cleaned house and it was a proud moment for our students,” said Lauren Bishop, chief sustainability officer at WCU. “This is the second year that we won the top spot and it shows our excellence in undergraduate research.”

Students working on the environmental science capstone project investigated how to improve the sustainability of commuting at WCU. Some of the solutions that the students proposed included implementing a bikeshare program; creating sidewalks, bike lanes and greenways leading from campus to residences; rewarding off-campus shuttle riders for using the service; creating affordable housing for university members; providing free parking to vehicles with three or more people; increasing parking permit prices; and decreasing the number of parking spaces on campus.

Students working on the computer science capstone project developed multiple tools for students commuting to campus to locate and monitor Cat-Tran shuttles. They created mobile apps for Android and Apple mobile devices as well as a Web application to track shuttles. In addition, they developed software on an Android phone to track how many people get on a shuttle at each stop and a website to keep track of how many people use each shuttle, locate where the shuttle is and update the shuttle routes.

After students presented the projects at WCU’s annual Undergraduate Expo, Bishop encouraged them to submit their work to an AES competition. Bishop, Laura DeWald, director of the environmental science program; Mark Holliday, professor of computer science; and the students worked together to prepare their projects meet the standards for submission to the summit.

Nineteen environmental science students collaborated on the environmental science project. The class worked with Ernie Hudson, chief of WCU Police; David King, an energy management specialist; and Bishop, who helped them acquire some of the data needed for the project, said DeWald. The students who created the environmental science poster are William Wood, Anja Nothdurft and Kirstan Blender, all of whom recently graduated from WCU with bachelor’s degrees in environmental science. Charlie “Julia” Robinson, a rising senior in the environmental science program, represented the poster at AES.

Hayden Thomas, who recently graduated from WCU with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and Christopher Ward, a senior who is majoring in computer science and environmental science, created the computer science poster and presented it at the summit.

Ward said the project represented a joint effort of the environmental science and computer science programs.

“I collaborated with Laura DeWald, the environmental science capstone professor, and Mark Holliday, the computer science capstone professor, to combine both disciplines, and we incorporated the metrics to improve the sustainability of the campus transit system into a tracking application for commuter students,” said Ward.

Thomas said it was very exciting to win the poster competition.

“We worked very hard throughout the year on the project, so I was very proud to be a part of it. I also graduated in the spring, so I was happy to represent WCU one more time.”

Ward described the feeling of winning as phenomenal.

“The fact that I helped with the other grand prize-winning research project is just icing on the cake,” he said. “I believe this is a true example of how two departments within the university can collaborate on projects which can have lasting results.”

Ward also participated in a summit panel presentation with students from five North Carolina universities who presented the work of the summit’s working groups.

“WCU represented the transportation working group, due to our research of commuter transportation sustainability during the environmental science capstone course,” he said. “During the panel, I had to give a five minute presentation about the research we had conducted and then answer questions from the audience.”

For more information about the competition and capstone projects, contact DeWald at ldewald@email.wcu.edu, Bishop at lbishop@wcu.edu or Holliday at holliday@email.wcu.edu.