March 30, 2016
Students in hard hats running back and forth, passing off pipes as quickly as they can, rushing to tighten screws and bolts, and dodging the “river” that is drawn on the ground with chalk. This is a practice run for the WKU Steel Bridge Team. The team left for regionals on Wednesday, March 30 to compete in Cincinnati for a place at the national competition. On Tuesday, they were busy at work preparing for all aspects of the competition.
As made clear by one of their practice runs, the steel bridge competition is not just about putting a bridge together—it’s also about building that bridge with speed and efficiency. One of the competition categories is Construction Speed, where the team must put their bridge together as fast as they can, while also making sure to use safe construction practices and minimize mistakes. Outside of the engineering building, the team completed practice runs for this component of the competition, where they worked quickly and then examined their own product for loose bolts and other mistakes that would deduct from their final score. One of the team captains, Daniel Hammer was eager to share about preparation for this year’s competition.
The 2016 WKU Steel Bridge team consists of eleven people, who have been working on it all year in their senior project class. During the fall semester, they worked on designing the bridge, and this semester they have fabricated it and brought their ideas into reality. Daniel’s favorite part of the process has been seeing the bridge finally come together after all their hard work and stress. He explained that the past month and a half leading up to the competition have been particularly stressful for the team. They had to make some modifications to the bridge in order to keep it straight while holding a load. They also had to go through a great deal of practice to improve their speed and efficiency and minimize possible penalties. While making sure to tighten bolts and quickly pass off materials, all team members also have to make sure to stay in bounds during construction—stepping out is another way to get penalties.
Western’s steel bridge team has qualified for nationals for five years in a row, and this year they hope to do the same. First, they will face some of their rivals at regionals, which include many of the larger schools inside and outside of the Ohio Valley region, such as Akron, Ohio State, and the University of Pittsburgh. On the morning of the competition, they will put their bridge together to be judged for aesthetics, and then they will take it apart again so that they can re-build it later and be judged on speed. Slightly nervous and very excited, the team hopes their hard work will pay off and earn them a place at nationals, which will take place at BYU in Provo, Utah. Daniel Hammer is excited to once again experience the unique environment at this competition, where all WKU team members and faculty advisors gather near the construction team, loudly cheering them on and providing encouragement. Well-prepared and excited, the team is eager to present their bridge at regionals. They have all learned a great deal about team work, bridge construction, and what it takes to carry out a real engineering project.