Carnegie Mellon University
April 15, 2013

CEE Undergraduates Compete in 2013 ASCE/AISC Steel Bridge Competition

CEE Undergraduates Compete in 2013 ASCE/AISC Steel Bridge Competition

A hardworking team of CEE undergraduate students recently competed against thirteen other student teams in a multi-university Student Steel Bridge Competition. The competition, which was held April 5 through 8 in Cleveland, Ohio, was sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). The team included juniors Jeffie Chang, Christopher Ejiofor, and Alex Warzinski and sophomores Andrew Bakert, John Carchi, Dolly Hsu, Michelle Kraynock, and Amir Nour.

In the competition, teams were given 45 minutes to construct their bridges while being mindful of strict guidelines: stepping in the wrong place or dropping a bridge part could lead to a penalty. The CEE team built their bridge in 20 minutes, 10 minutes faster than their practice run time. Once completed, the bridges were then tested for strength and stability in a series of load tests. Teams were removed from the running if their bridge swayed more than three inches vertically or half an inch horizontally. “We passed the first test, which was a fifty-pound lateral pull at two locations,” Chang said. “Unfortunately, the next test was whether your bridge could hold 2,500 pounds, and although our bridge only moved a sixteenth of an inch vertically, it had a side sway of greater than half an inch and we weren’t allowed to go further.” 

The experience gave the team a taste of the challenges of real-world engineering projects. To comply with the competition rules, they had to consider cost restrictions, meet deadlines, supervise part manufacturing, and work effectively as a team. In addition, problems with their initial bridge design led the students to begin developing a new design in January, which led to many long hours in the construction studio. However, the students are happy they started fresh. “Our final bridge was very light and had a lot of identical pieces to make production easier,” Warzinski said. 

Although the CEE team was large, the students saw their number as an asset. “There’s a new challenge every day, so with this project, it was definitely the more the merrier,” Chang said. “We had a really good team with a lot of students, and that allowed us to split up the work.” Bakert added, “This project was a good chance to learn from the upperclassmen. When you run across a technical problem, you can go to them for guidance.”

The team received valuable assistance from the CEE community. In response to a letter-writing campaign from the students, CEE alumni contributed over a thousand dollars towards material, tool, and travel expenses. Throughout the project, CEE Professor Larry Cartwright served as the CEE team’s mentor, offering resources, advice, and the occasional much-needed morale boost. 

Though their bridge didn’t perform as well as they had hoped, the CEE Steel Bridge Team returned from the competition in good spirits and ready for next year’s competition. “We improved a lot,” said Chang. “We’re going to use all of our resources next year to build something completely different that we’ve never done before.”