Students Build Bridges to a Future in Engineering

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mineral Ridge High School students Aaliyah Wall, Madison Svirbly and Faith Schneider were among 70 students creating balsa wood bridges, hoping to improve on the design they made at school to get to the competition.

“In class they design, and they build them and we test them,” said physics teacher Scott Yeagley, who makes it a competition before the competition. “They get to earn their way here.”

In December, teams of students compete in Yeagley’s class based on the specifications given, and that determines the two teams who get to represent Mineral Ridge at the Mahoning Valley Miniature Bridge Building Contest.

“We did really well this year in class, so hopefully we do well here,” Yeagley said.

For three hours Tuesday morning, students from 12 high schools in Mahoning and Trumbull counties focused on constructing balsa wood bridges based on their designs for the competition.

Mineral Ridge students Aaliyah Wall, left, and Madison Svirbly work on building their competition bridge with teammate Faith Schneider, back.

The goal of every student in the room was to build a solid bridge that can withstand weight with limited amounts of the lightweight wood and glue. While the students worked, only a quiet hum of an occasional conversation or hair dryer could be heard in the big room in YSU’s Kilcawley Center, which was hosting the event.

“After lunch, that can be exciting. That’s when balsa wood starts flying,” said Larry Webster, a structural engineer with MS Consultants.

That is when the bridges were to be tested to see which bridges can withstand weight.

Joseph Cicchillo, an engineer technician with the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, pointed out it is a great event to get the students familiar with the engineering concepts behind what goes into construction of an actual bridge.

“It’s got to be light, but it’s also got to be strong,” Cicchillo said. “Efficiency is key. When we design real bridges in the field, it’s a balance between efficiency and weight, which saves cost. That’s the kind of concepts that we’re trying to evoke here with these students.”

Joe Cicchillo of the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office.

In its 15th year, the Mahoning Valley Miniature Bridge Building Contest has evolved, according to Brian Hughes, a consumer project manager with MS Consultants.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve shifted our focus to have the kids now start to design to a certain break weight,” Hughes said. “So we are asking them to design a bridge that will break at 40 pounds. If they do that, they are the winner.”

A second award is given to the bridge that is the lightest and carries the most weight.

A third award is voted on by the students. The Richard A. Marsico Aesthetic Award, named in honor of the former Mahoning County engineer, is voted on by the students for the most attractive bridge. Finally, the Wade Harvey Design Award, named for a former engineer from MS Consultants who was one of the event’s founders, is a combination award that goes to the bridge that is the best looking and satisfactorily designed.

“Our goal here is to really get these kids thinking about engineering,” Hughes said. “And this competition can help spark that interest.”

Brian Hughes, a consumer project manager with MS Consultants, holds the trophy that will have another school’s name added after today’s competition.

Students could also end up with some money to help them go to college at YSU. With the help of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, those responsible for the competition will offer two $1,000 scholarships for students who enter engineering programs at YSU this year, and those competing in the bridge competition automatically get preference in the decision process.

“Engineering, in general, is a very diverse field,” said Hughes, noting the skills used at the competition are one part of that field – structural engineering. “These careers offer great opportunities for young kids throughout their adult life – very rewarding not only from the basis of contributing to society, but they’re also monetarily well-paying.”

While many students gravitate toward computers or robotics, Webster points out civil engineering is an important field.

Joe Sanson of the engineering technology program at YSU notes employers are looking for engineers. Students with those degrees, including electrical, mechanical and civil, all have the opportunity to get a good-paying job after college, or even before, working part-time with consultants while finishing their degrees. Sanson said employers are already asking for the names of students when they’re sophomores.

“By the time they are juniors, they usually have a job,” Sanson said, adding they are paid well. “The need is out there.”

Engineering technology students can obtain their associate’s degree in two years and be ready to enter the workforce.

Hosting the event at YSU gives the students a chance to visit the campus, where they might picture themselves attending down the road. Some YSU engineering students, along with engineers on the committee for the event from both Mahoning and Trumbull counties, spend time with the students during the afternoon, where they can learn more about the field and education opportunities at YSU.

Pictured at top: From left are Macayle Thornhill and Payton Verquer, both seniors at Jackson-Milton High School, and YSU associate professor Joe Sanson.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.