BECKLEY, WV (WVNS)–For the first time ever, Harvard University graduate students are studying outside of the classroom in Beckley.

A study group from Harvard University is researching the future of coal, so they took a tour at Beckley’s Exhibition Coal Mine.

The transition of energy around the world poses challenges to coal-producing regions like West Virginia. Now, the students have the opportunity to learn firsthand how these challenges can be overcome. 

Former West Virginia Secretary of State and Harvard fellow Natalie Tennant, said visiting Beckley will be essential in their understanding of these communities. 

“If you’re going to study about the impact to coalfields and coal miners during a transition, then you really need to visit a place and not just research and talk about it,” said Tennant.

One student, Nomko Baatar, is from Mongolia – a country with an economy that relies heavily on coal exports. Baatar said she knows people in the coal industry and wants to learn more about finding solutions in the industry’s future.

“One of the reasons why I’ve joined this study group is because I wanted to understand how other countries are transitioning away from coal and how they are doing it in a sustainable manner,” said Baatar.

Another student, Hannah Mae Merten, said visiting West Virginia made her appreciate things most people take for granted – like power.

“Power doesn’t come from the light switch, right?” Merten joked. “It comes from somewhere, and there are people that worked hard for that, so it’s given me a greater appreciation for just how it works and also the places that have contributed everything to making it happen.”

During their visit, the students also took a tour at the UMWA Career Center to listen to coal miners speak about their experiences. The students said overall the two day visit taught them more than the few sessions they had in school.