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Midlands students take bus tour of transportation

Benedict College program highlights transportation industry

When Donovan Edwards encounters road construction or bridge projects from now on, he won’t just see an annoyance or delay. He’ll see a possible career, a job with the potential of improving the quality of life for multitudes of people, thanks to a tour given to a group of high school students by the Richland County Transportation Program. Edwards, a freshman at Camden High School, was among more than 30 high school students from throughout South Carolina who gathered June 13 at the Summer Transportation Institute at Benedict College.

The program, funded by the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, is for rising 9th, 10th, and 11th graders. Its purpose: to create awareness and stimulate interest in the transportation industry. Representatives from the Richland County Transportation Program talked to the students about careers in civil engineering, particularly in the transportation field. They then took the students on a bus tour of just a few of the improvements made in Columbia compliments of the Transportation Program. “It’s given us more experience, learning about transformation and how the Transportation Program helps,” Edwards said. Edwards’ favorite project was the Foundation Square/Greene Street Project in front of the University of South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena. The students also saw The Bluff Road Widening project, the North Main Street Widening at Anthony Avenue and the pedestrian bridge at Riverbanks Zoo.

“This is a great opportunity to share the mission as well as the success of the Richland County Transportation Program,” said David Beaty, transportation program manager. Beaty said the summer program at Benedict, and the Transportation Program’s role in it, is a great opportunity to expose students to the many career opportunities in transportation. “It’s an industry with a lot of growth and opportunity,” Beaty said. “And it’s an industry under represented by both minorities and women.” Beaty spoke to the group, complimenting them for taking time out of their summer to participate in the transportation program and encouraging them to keep seeking such opportunities. He explained how transportation civil engineering can be a lucrative career, and how it can improve the quality of life in communities by building  and improving roads and providing pedestrian walkways and bike paths.

The Richland County Transportation Program includes projects throughout the county during a 22-year period or until $1.07 billion in sales tax revenue is collected. The program is divided into three major categories – roadways, The Comet bus system and bicycle/pedestrian/greenways – and includes such projects as road widenings, intersection improvements, sidewalks, bikeways and dirt road paving. The students in the summer program got an overview of the program and had fun in the process.

Richland Transportation Program interns had the students begin the tour with a “brain teaser.” Students worked in groups of five and were tasked to build the tallest, freestanding structure they could with mini marshmallows, toothpicks and uncooked spaghetti.The structures ranged from teepee shaped to square and rectangular. Among the lessons learned was that engineering involves creativity to use resources in a way to solve problems, and that engineers have to create safe structures while making economically sound decisions.

Tonye Hayes, a freshman at Gray Collegiate Academy in West Columbia, may not end up pursuing a civil engineering career. But like Edwards, she has a new appreciation of road, bridge and other transportation projects. “It opened my eyes to different parts of (engineering) careers,” Hayes said. “When you’re walking or driving, you don’t pay attention to what you’re walking or what you’re driving on. It’s just a road. “But a lot goes into planning and building that road.”