ATHENS — When Karlee Bartlow started work on her entry for the No Excuses Billboard Design Contest as a freshman, she didn’t expect to win anything or even be a finalist.

“I thought it was just fun to do the project,” she said.

But Wednesday morning, officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Highway Safety Network, and area State Farm agent Adam Bennett were presenting Bartlow and the Athens Area High School with $500 scholarships for her winning entry, which was chosen above many others from all grade levels across PennDOT Engineering District 3. Starting Oct. 19, she will be able to enjoy another perk of her accomplishment — having her design featured on an area billboard along Route 220 as part of National Teen Driver Safety Week.

“That’s really cool,” Bartlow said about having her work featured on such a visible medium. “I’m just so grateful for this opportunity.”

A focus of the contest was to address the top cause of teen deaths — motor vehicle crashes — and was initially targeted for National Driving Distracted Awareness Month in April, but had to be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to PennDOT Safety Press Officer Kim Smith, Bartlow’s entry was chosen because it went beyond just texting.

“She (the subject of the design) had a coffee in her hand — people don’t think about that,” Smith explained. “They always associate distracted driving with phones, but we’ve been driving distracted way before cell phones were a thing.”

In addition to food and drink, distracted driving can even take the form of playing with the radio or temperature controls, which Smith said should be set before hitting the road.

Technology Education Department teacher Scott Riley said the department is always trying to incorporate real world experiences for students such as this contest.

“It always gives them a better sense of what they are working on and what they’re working towards in the end,” Riley explained. “This was a great opportunity for the kids to follow guidelines as far as the project as well as time deadlines.”

Riley added that the department will meet to decide how best to use the $500 award, especially given some of the budgetary challenges due to COVID-19.

The scholarship money was provided through the partnership with Bennett’s State Farm office in Athens Borough.

“I’m so proud of our local Athens student, Karlee, who made this awesome billboard sign to promote safe driving and avoid distracted driving,” said Bennett.

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