ASCE Bridge Bust 2013 Competition Teaches Hoosier High School Students Valuable Engineering Skills

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Guest Speaker Willis R. Conner Speaks on Using Civil Engineering Vision to Solve Global Infrastructure Problems

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By Leslie Benson,  Marketing Communications > More than 100 students from 13 different high schools across Indiana participated in the 34th Annual American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)’s 2013 Bridge Bust Competition, held on March 1 at the Armory on the Purdue University Campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The featured guest speaker of the event, American Structurepoint’s president and COO, Willis R. Conner, gave students a pep talk for the balsa wood bridge building competition and inspired them to consider a career in the engineering industry.

“Everyone on the planet today is so connected. Today, we all play in a global sandbox,” said Conner. “Civil engineers are responding to global challenges that have an enormous impact and that will affect generations.”

For the Bridge Bust, according to Purdue’s website, students were limited to only using balsa wood and glue to design and construct a small-scale “bridge” that was aesthetically pleasing, demonstrated sound structural concepts, and maximized the ratio of the load capacity to the bridge mass. Students used advanced math, science, physics, and technology to solve their first engineering “problem.”

What better way to teach students about the real-world application of engineering concepts than by inviting Conner to tell them about his own passion for engineering?

“Engineers think differently!” Conner said. “We are decision makers with unique problem-solving abilities and are grounded in a strong math and science background. We are creative thinkers who can use our analytical skills to develop amazing solutions. We are natural leaders who work well in teams and possess a strong work ethic. You put all this in a bowl and stir it up, and you get vision! And it takes vision to solve the world’s infrastructure problems.”

For the Bridge Bust, students solved a civil engineering problem similar to those of real-life bridge engineers, just on a smaller scale. Bridges were judged in two categories: structural strength and aesthetic qualities.

The valuable lessons students learned included how to:

  • Arrange the members and connections in a bridge for efficiency, strength and constructability to carry a load;
  • Select durable, renewable materials;
  • Meet all the geometric constraints of size, including width, length, and height;
  • Satisfy aesthetic standards;
  • Deliver the bridge project on time and ready for use; and
  • Build a bridge at a reasonable cost.

By using their best judgment and hidden engineering skills, the students successfully designed an engineering project, responding to issues similar to those faced by professional engineers every day. On a greater scale, their efficient designs would translate into real-world savings of time and money for a client. A successful bridge project would not only help connect two roads, bringing towns and people closer together, but it may also spur economic development and job growth. “I believe these types of achievements by civil engineers on a global scale will help drive the world economy in a more positive direction,” Conner told the participants.

Students from the Plymouth Community School Corporation won first and second place for structural strength, while students from Northwestern and Paxton won first and second place, respectively, for aesthetics. Coming in third for structural strength was Greenwood, and in third for aesthetics was Centerville. The first place team in each category was awarded a $100 cash scholarship. The second place team in each category was awarded a $50 cash scholarship. The third place team in each category was awarded Purdue University apparel.

After congratulating the winning students, Conner encouraged all the participants of the Bridge Bust Competition to major in engineering, because with an engineering education, he believes the opportunities are endless. “You’ve now got your first project under your belt. I can’t wait for you to join me in the coolest profession out there. The sky’s the limit!”

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