SPOTSWOOD, NJ - For a long time Sarge's whiteboard greeted students as they entered the main hallway of Spotswood High School with interesting facts. Today, there is a digital information board courtesy of Spotswood High School senior Brian Lumsden that does the same and so much more. The board is a product of Lumsden's work for his Honors Special Topics in Computer Science class. The class is taught by Spotswood High School Technology teacher Gary Hull.

Students spend the academic year working on self-directed projects. Lumsden's completed project now welcomes students and staff with a quote of the day, a daily history fact, birthdays, activities for the day and more. The board even updates itself daily.

"The backbone of the whole project is the Raspberry Pi that powers it," Lumsden said. "A Raspberry Pi is essentially a computer with no screen. It has standard computer capabilities, but it just needs an HDMI cord to connect it to some type of screen. For the basics of the display, I used an online service called DAKboard to help me design it and lay it out. DAKboard is also helpful in that it provides some of its own daily updated features including the date and time down to the second as well as local weather."
Sign Up for Milltown/Spotswood Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.
"The other features that the display includes are a countdown until graduation, daily student birthdays, a school calendar, quote of the day, fun fact of the day, word of the day, today in history section and a slide show of school related photos," Lumsden continued. "Each section is called a "block" on DAKboard and each block is updated automatically. The entire project was designed to be completely independent. In addition to the software being automatic, the hardware is too."

"For the most part, students have complete control over their project for the academic year," Hull said of his Special Topics students. "My only parameter is that the project focuses in some way on computer science."

"It's (the digital information board) is probably better that I hoped it would be," Hull continued. "I'd been dreaming about making a digital version on Sarge's whiteboard for the past five years or so, one that automatically undated itself with the current time, birthdays, news, but I never had a Special Topics student who was willing to tackle the project."

Before, Lumsden that is. The idea for the digital information board came from a digital Google calendar Lumsden designed for his mom using a Rasberry Pi kit.

"Brian's earlier work in class making a smart display for his mother's calendar was a perfect segue into making the smart display," Hull said.

"I began the year with a similar, project in mind," Lumsden explained. "It was a digital Google Calendar that my mom pushed me to make with a Raspberry Pi kit we had lying around the house. To my surprise, I completed this really quickly. In about a month I had to begin work on a new project, so Mr. Hull and I decided to stick with the same theme and go with a similar, but upgraded informational display for the high school. I figured this was a great idea because we had unused TVs in the school halls that could display tons of useful information for students and staff. I could use my time to make something practical for the whole school to use which I really liked."

Running the board all day and night proved to be problematic. The Rasberry Pi began to overheat. However, the problem was solved by utilizing a mechanical timer with the teen programming the device to power up and refresh each morning in time for the arrival of staff and students.

"Another reason to create this was to continue Sarge's legacy," Lumsden said about his Special Topics project. "Our security guard, Sarge, used to write up fun information every morning on a whiteboard in the hallway before school, but he stopped doing this. I like to think of my project as a new and improved version of Sarge's daily whiteboard. My favorite part about the project is its function. I think it is really cool that I was able to create something from scratch that helps other people or brings a quick smile to their face.'

The digital information board was put into use before the coronavirus pandemic forced New Jersey students into remote learning. Lumsden made a noteworthy presentation of his Special Topics project along with Hull to the Spotswood Board of Education. The Milltown native was in the process of putting together a similar digital informational board for the Memorial Middle School before his work was halted by the shutdown. Even though he may not have the opportunity to continue the work on Memorial's board, the digital informational display at Spotswood High School will live on.

"I think the display will definitely remain a part of the high school," Hull said. "There will be some yearly maintenance involved, but other students have already volunteered to maintain the project in next year's Special Topics class. The technology platform that we're using for the display does have a monthly fee associated with it, but the school has already talked about including this in their budget for next year."

"After seeing the display completed, Sarge suggested that I put my name on it just so people know who made it," Lumsden said. "After I did that, it felt as though this would be my legacy at Spotswood High School. I think it's awesome that my work could be used by students that I haven't even met. Hopefully, one of Mr. Hull's future students could improve upon my project and take it to the next level! I even prepared for this by documenting the majority of my project and how to maintain it once I leave. I'll always encourage influence from others. Most of all, I am very proud that I will have a lasting effect on my school because it has certainly had a lasting effect on me."

Lumsden would love to have the opportunity to complete the digital informational display at Memorial. However, that seems unlikely now that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has closed all Garden State schools for the remainder of the academic year. The teen would be happy to see one of next year's Special Topics students take on the task though.

"Brian rarely fails to impress," Hull said. "The great thing is that I can explain something one time, not even directions just an idea, and Brian is off to the races. There have been several times in the course of working on the display where I think we should try something, but I'm not quite sure if it would work or not. By the end of the period, Brian will have figured a way to make it happen. He is dependable, adaptable, intelligent and well-rounded."

In the fall, Lumsden is headed to Villanova University. He plans on majoring in astronomy, his first love. However, four years of computer science work with Hull introduced him to another.

"Since I was young, I've wanted to be an astronomer and I'd like to stick to that dream as much as possible," he said. "However, after being introduced to computer science early in high school, I realized that I wanted that to be a part of my life as well. Comp sci skills are applicable across so many fields that I am certain I will be using mine in the future. Being severely optimistic, I've discussed with people that my plan is to program a robot and send it to Mars! Although I can't expect something like this to magically work out in my favor, I feel that it would be a great way to marry my astronomy passion with my computer science expertise."

"Working on this project has been so rewarding and so much fun," Lumsden added. "It helped me realize what a great feeling can come from creating something so practical."