She hosted after-school sessions for students who wanted to work on their bridge designs.
The state pushes STEM teaching -- an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- and this design contest is all about analytical thinking, McElwain said.
Many students graduate from high school without the necessary skills to fill jobs, such as engineering skills, but programs like this competition can change that, she said.
"We have a shortage in our country for engineers and it's my job to get kids interested in engineering while they're young," McElwain said, standing in the center of the New River Gorge Bridge's catwalk. "We don't make them analyze enough, we don't prepare them to be engineers. . . . I would like to see more done in high schools to better prepare them, which means a higher level of math and science, and contests like this."
McElwain's daughter, Summer, 13, of Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, and her teammate, Kyra Lampert, 13, went to the final round of the Army-Navy Bridge Design Contest, which is exclusively for sixth- and seventh-grade students.
Lampert took more to the architect end of the design contest by drawing up each bridge sketch, while Summer McElwain drafted her teammate's concepts on the computer program.
Arch bridges -- like the one they examined Friday afternoon in person -- are the hardest to build, Lampert said.
"Sometimes, you can change the size of one bar or tube and it messes up the whole design," Summer McElwain said. "It's so cool, we get to see this bridge in person. It gives me ideas for next year's design using the computer program."
Jimmy Wriston, senior engineering adviser for the state Department of Transportation, said the West Virginia Statewide West Point Bridge Design Contest is one of the most important programs the state offers.
The Division of Highways spends its entire educational-outreach fund on the contest, he said.
Wriston has volunteered at each statewide contest by explaining to students why certain beams are necessary, how the bridge moves and more.
He said the bridge-building program is innovative and exciting for students.
"We've got to raise the bar on math and science, and this is the way to do it, to get them out of the classroom," Wriston said. "Using the computer to solve analytical problems that are in the real world -- there is no better model or example, and to come out and walk on this bridge is the real deal."
The top 20 West Virginia teams will compete in the statewide contest Saturday at Marshall University. Students will have two hours to create a virtual bridge that is the least expensive and most effective. While Bartusiak and Zinzuwadia won the national competition and the big prize, another West Virginia team could win first place Saturday for the statewide contest.
Every team member will get $100 for participating. First place takes home $400, while second place earns $300 and third gets $200.
For more information, visit wvbridgecontest.com or bridgecontest.usma.edu.
Reach Megan Workman at megan.work...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.