High School Students Build Bridges at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University hosted the 15th Mahoning Valley Miniature Bridge Building Competition on Thursday, where students from 13 local high schools were grouped to make balsa wood bridges with a target design load of 40 pounds.

The annual program is administered by MS Consultants Inc. and was held in Kilcawley Center.

Derrick Double, Morgan Davis and Acelin Carpec were three of the more than 75 students attending the competition. The Trumbull Career & Technical Center engineering students said they were competing in the competition for the second straight year. 

“We are trying to do triangle patterns because it holds it better,” Davis said.

Davis said they also went for a similar triangle pattern last year.

“It can’t exceed 14 inches across,” she said. “Some groups are making theirs pretty tall, but it just depends.”

“Last year, the bridge we did at our school held about 20 pounds compared to its weight, which was about 12 grams,” Double said.

Double said their trouble occurred last year during weight testing, as the weight on the bridge was added all at once. This year, the trio hoped to improve their ranking.

“We had a stress analyzer at our school, but it is a lot different to how they do it here,” Davis added. 

Davis said practice runs are done at the school for junior students. While the entire class participates in the practice, she said it is the students with the most success that are sent to the competition.

“We all have our own little class competitions that we do,” she said.

Students work on their projects at the Mahoning Valley Miniature Bridge Building Competition.

Students started Thursday’s project at 8:30 a.m. and were given two hours of work time before being given a 15-minute break and resuming to complete their bridges by noon. Students were required to construct bridges based on the package materials provided to them by the committee.

Joe Sanson, associate professor of the civil and construction engineering technology program, organized the event. He said he has been involved for the past 11 years.

“Each team will have their bridges judged aesthetically, and then they will have certain tests they have to go through to see if a car can roll across the bridge so there is no obstruction on the surface,” Sanson said. 

The bridges are then taken and weighted down to test their capacity, Sanson said.

“We’ve been getting weights up to 100 pounds that these bridges will carry,” he said. “The bridges are about 23 grams, so they are very light.” 

Each school entered two teams of three students. 

“The importance of this event is to get the students to think about engineering and also give them the experience in working with real engineers,” Sanson said. 

In addition to their projects, students were given the opportunity to network with YSU staff and other local engineers working in the field.

“We have representatives from MS Consultants, the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, the Mahoning County Engineer’s Office, various engineering firms from northeast Ohio, Burgess & Niple, DLZ, GPD, [and others],” he said. “Students have the opportunity to meet with them and ask them questions.”

The day concluded with an awards ceremony. The Top Prize Award of $150 was awarded to the bridge team that broke closest to 40 pounds; the Most Efficient Award of $100 was awarded to the lightest bridge that carries the most weight; and additional cash awards were made to the teams coming in second place in each category. 

From left, Joe Sanson, associate professor of the civil and construction engineering technology program at Youngstown State University; Larry Webster, structural engineer at MS Consultants; Brian Hughes, project engineer at MS Consultants; Gary Shaffer, deputy engineer at the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office; and Bob Durbin, deputy engineer at the Mahoning County Engineer’s Office.

Brian Hughes, project manager for MS Consultants and a committee member, said this is the first year students were encouraged to build a bridge that is required to break at a particular weight.

“We are trying to get them to break at a prescribed weight of 40 pounds,” he said. “In years past, it got more and more exciting to watch bridges break at higher and higher break rates – 150 pounds sometimes. While that was very exciting to watch, it really didn’t help the kids understand the value of trying to conserve materials.”

The new weight goal allowed students to focus more on the values of real world engineering, Hughes said.

Hughes said he has been on the committee since the first year, and he has watched it evolve over the years.

“It started with MS Consultants initiating a miniature bridge building competition,” he said. “We have attended and helped Summit County do their bridge building competition for years and, eventually, we got to the point where we said we need to bring that to the Youngstown area.”

Soon after, they got the Mahoning and Trumbull engineer’s offices involved. 

Hughes said the committee is now made up of about 12 active members. 

“We want this experience to be a starting measure for them [the students] to evaluate their careers,” he said. “Hopefully, they are thinking about engineering as a crew in the field. It doesn’t necessarily have to be structural or bridge engineering – but still get them thinking about engineering in general.”

The hope for the event is to help segue students into college and future career plans, Hughes said.

“We are thrilled that high schools continue to embrace this project, and we hope it continues to expand and get bigger,” he said. “This year we got 26 teams. Other years we have had as many as 36.”

Hughes said their goal for next year is to reach out to some of the schools they have lost over the years and get them back.

Pictured at top: From left, Derrick Double, Acelin Carpec and Morgan Davis, engineering students at Trumbull Career & Technical Center, work on their project.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.