Students take first at bridge-building competition

Portland State’s Steel Bridge Team won first place overall in a bridge-building competition that was PSU’s first-ever victory.

Portland State’s Steel Bridge Team won first place overall in a bridge-building competition that was PSU’s first-ever victory.

PSU beat out 11 other teams from Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Alaska, and will now advance with the top-four teams to the national competition. The group of PSU students won over teams from the Oregon Institute of Technology, who took second place, and Oregon State University, who took fourth.

“When we first walked in we were pretty nervous. We spent all day rehearsing, taking it apart and putting it back together,” said Cate Fox-Lent, a civil engineering student on the PSU team. “Our bridge did better than we expected.”

The PSU team was competing at the Northwestern Regional Steel Bridge competition, hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) at the University of Alaska’s campus in Fairbanks, Alaska, from April 12-14. The national competition takes place in Los Angeles in late May.

Teams build their bridge before the competition, but come to the competition with it disassembled. The competition is based on reassembling the bridge.

Teams were judged on the weight of their bridge, how quickly they could assemble it and by how little the bridge bent when 2,500 pounds was placed on top of it. The PSU team assembled their 270-pound bridge in six minutes and 20 seconds, and it bent a total of .85 inches, according to Fox-Lent.

A technical writing contest was also part of the competition. Fox-Lent received first place for a paper she submitted at the end of March.

The team spent months designing and constructing their 20-foot-long model bridge in Science Building 2. All materials they used were donated by local companies, Fox-Lent said.

Fox-Lent said their team received little financial support from PSU.

Several civil engineering students formed the PSU team in October. After spending around a month designing their bridge, they began constructing test pieces in December, Fox-Lent said.

The team completed the bridge in the middle of March, and spent the time leading up to the competition practicing its assembly.

In the competition, no more than four people can touch the bridge at one time. A team’s bridge also must be constructed over a “river,” a space marked off by duct tape that contestants are not allowed to step on.

Between 20 and 25 engineering students were involved in the team in some way, Fox-Lent said, with each student spending as many as 30 hours each week on it. Eight of the students traveled to Alaska to compete.

“It was whoever could participate whenever,” she said. “But there was a core group of us, eight of us.”

The PSU Steel Bridge Team has started planning for the Northwest regional competition next spring.

“It’s pretty crucial for us to go to nationals and see how they do things,” Fox-Lent said.

Fox-Lent said the PSU team will continue to develop their bridge until the national competition, where 50 teams from across the country will compete.

“Even though we’re given the same rules, everyone comes up with a different way of doing it,” Fox-Lent said. “We think we have a decent shot.”

PSU has been competing in the national ASCE competition for several years. A PSU team placed 28th overall in the 2002 national competition.

Most members of the Steel Bridge Team are upperclassmen or post-baccalaureate students whose experience has helped them learn the skills to construct a bridge, Fox-Lent said. The PSU team hopes to recruit more interested civil engineering students for next year because not all of the members plan to return.

“It’s been a lot of fun and certainly a lot of time,” Fox-Lent said.

Engineering students Andy Tibbetts, Jared Fischer, Michael Glickman, Jesse McLaughlin, Cory Burlingame, Kyle Kraxberger and Mandy O’Hara competed with Fox-Lent in Alaska.