WEST ORANGE, NJ — New Jersey Transit facilities planners got a sneak peek of a West Orange High School engineering project June 13, when juniors Mya Bembry and Bryce Nelms showed off the prototype of a solar-powered bus shelter they have been working on in their engineering and design solutions class. The project was developed when the students realized there is no bus shelter or light near the WOHS athletic fields for when practices end, so they decided to do something about it. When completed, the bus shelter will use solar power to provide light for students awaiting transportation, as well as charging ports to replenish dead cell phone batteries.
According to WOHS supervisor of technology and engineering Ryan Del Guercio, the project came out of the department working with Liter of Light, a nonprofit organization that aims to bring affordable and sustainable solar-powered light to people without access to electricity. Liter of Light has worked with the high school students to build lights for the past few years, and Del Guercio said the bus shelter project is another real-world problem the students are trying to solve.
“We try to simulate real-world scenarios,” Del Guercio told the West Orange Chronicle in an interview on June 13. “When they’re working on building that bus shelter, it’s something that they can come back to see in 10 years and say they built it.”
Bembry said that while building the shelter is a school project, it also has practical uses.
“We were thinking of different ways to provide light,” she said in an interview with the Chronicle on June 13. “A lot of students take the bus, and when it rains there’s no shelter protecting them.”
Bembry added that, at the end of a school day and an afternoon of sports practices, many students need a place to charge their phones. The bus shelter will ideally be built with outlets for students to plug in their phones and bring their batteries back to life.
Bembry and Nelms currently have a prototype of the shelter, and will continue working on the project when school starts again in the fall. Since their class is over, they will be working with engineering and auto tech teacher Rudy Petrella in an independent study.
“This is a problem we can solve,” Petrella said in an interview with the Chronicle on June 13. “We don’t have light at night when we get out of practice. We can use the same circuits as the Liter of Light lanterns, and build it with Plexiglas and wood. Once we figure out how to fix the shorting out when they get wet, it’s simple from there.”
“The biggest challenge has been attaching the poles and making it weatherproof,” Bembry said. “But it’s been fun, because we’ve been able to learn about electricity. It’s been pretty cool to work on.”
Both Bembry and Nelms want to study engineering after graduating from WOHS next year.
Petrella hopes to have the project completed and installed behind WOHS before the end of the 2018-2019 school year. From a teaching standpoint, he said that time and obtaining materials has been the hardest part of the project.
“We have good kids that want to learn, and that makes it easy,” Petrella said. “They do the work. I’m here when there’s a short.”
West Orange Environmental Commission Chairman Mike Brick was happy to see the progress Bembry and Nelms have made on building the bus shelter.
“This is what we were hoping for, grassroots solutions to these problems,” Brick told the Chronicle in an interview on June 13. “We can be a catalyst for the change and they can be a catalyst for us.”
“NJ Transit applauds the energy and enthusiasm of the West Orange High School students for their interest in public transportation and alternative energy,” Nathan Rudy, the senior public information officer for NJ Transit, told the Chronicle in a June 15 email. “We continually stay informed of the latest uses of alternative energy. NJ Transit maintains a strong, ongoing commitment to environmentally friendly solutions, including the use of alternative fuel vehicles and a solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the Meadows Maintenance Complex, which generates 819 thousand kilowatt hours of renewable emission-free electricity preventing 1.07 million pounds of CO2 emissions. We encourage these students to continue to take their passion to become leaders in future implementations of alternative energy projects.”
Zachary Subar, a NJ Transit facilities planner who looked at the prototype, said his visit to WOHS was the first he has made to a high school with NJ Transit.
“We’re looking at the possibility of using solar power,” Subar told the Chronicle in an interview on June 13. “We’ve done some work with green energy. But I haven’t experienced anything like this at a high school.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic