More than 100 area high school students could be seen in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center on Friday. They put their engineering and critical-thinking skills to the test for the Seventh Annual Mahoning Valley Miniature Bridge Building Contest.
The contest was organized by Youngstown State University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, along with the Mahoning and Trumbull County Engineering Offices and MS Consultants, Inc.
Students from 16 local high schools were divided into 31 teams, with all but one school having two teams: a Team A and a Team B. Each team competed by building a miniature bridge out of balsa wood. The bridge was then tested for a variety of factors, including how much weight the bridge could handle, how lightweight the bridge was and how efficiently it was made.
“This event was to promote awareness of civil engineering as a career choice,” Anwarul Islam, YSU associate professor of civil engineering, said. “We have actually seen that some students have been recruited, especially in the civil engineering department.”
Islam explained that the event went over very well with several students already being approached following the competition. He said that out of the 16 schools, Lowellville was the event’s biggest winner.
“They’ve won five out of the last seven competitions. They took first place for the day. Jackson-Milton high school came in second and Springfield was third,” he said.
MS Consultants played a large role in the competition. According to Brian Hughes, one of the company’s employees who was judging the competition, they have helped organize and promote the event since its conception in 2008.
He said that these students had weeks of preparation leading up to the event, to test practice bridges and make improvements before the big day. He also said the bridges were inspected in a number of categories.
“These students were competing for the Most Efficient Bridge Award. There was an Aesthetics Award, and some others. The kids were each given three hours to complete a balsa wood structure. Each team was given the same amount of materials to build them,” Hughes said.
Hughes said after the first round of aesthetics testing, the students’ bridges were then fully inspected and put to the ultimate test.
“Each bridge was evaluated to make sure it met all the structural specifications. It was then weighed, and then if there were any deductions needed based on rule violations those were made. And then the bridges were taken to the load table where they were ultimately tested until they failed,” Hughes said.
Brookfield student R.J. Leon indicated that weeks of intense preparation lead up to the final competition.
“We spent a few weeks making bridges in class and in our free time. Our physics class had a competition and the top two groups got to come,” Leon said. “We then began to practice on our own. Today we had to execute this by ourselves without our teacher’s help.”
Leon said that although they did not win any awards, they had a great experience and reached their goal.
“We made the top ten, we reached our goal of that,” he said. “It was a good learning experience and we took a lot away from this.”
Islam said that he feels the competition is great for both the university and the students and is happy that students can benefit from it in such a big way.
“I think this is a great event for YSU to recruit these students in engineering,” he said. “Each year we see more and more bright new talent come through these doors. It’s great to have this opportunity.”