Steel Bridge Team advances to national competition


Courtesy photo: Nathan Lentz

Members of the ISU Steel Bridge Team work on their steel bridge.

Jessica Johnson

Success is nothing new to the ISU Steel Bridge Team. After placing third at the Midwest North Conference Regionals in March, the team will advance to compete in the 2011 National Student Steel Bridge Competition in College Station, Texas.

The event will pit the ISU Steel Bridge Team against the nation’s best for top honors. In 2008, the last year the team qualified for nationals, it finished first in aesthetics and 10th overall in the competition.

“This is maybe our fourth time competing at nationals,” said Nathan Lentz, senior in civil engineering and president of the Steel Bridge Team.

The team takes pride in being a completely student-run organization, meaning it constructs, welds and completes the project in house. Relying on instruction learned in class and teaching younger members the tricks of the trade so they can carry on the tradition is key.

This is the first year, though, that this was not true for fabrication. Travis “TJ” Good, who died suddenly last spring from bacterial meningitis, was a huge part in fabrication for the Steel Bridge Team in past years.

Not having Good to look to for guidance this year meant Andrew Barone, senior in civil engineering and vice president of design for the club, took charge of fabrication, putting in more than 130 hours of work, not including the man and design hours put in by the team as a whole.

Using the design software AutoCAD to help with the planning process in the fall, construction started early this spring.

The construction process is guided by a set of rules established by the Association for Iron & Steel Technology, which change yearly. Teams can use any brand or make of steel it prefers as long as it follows the rules of support, height and weight.

There are four main categories of competition: aesthetics, in which the ISU team has placed first in at regionals the last four years; flexion, where 2,500 pounds are loaded onto the bridge to see if there is any vertical displacement; construction time; and weight of the bridge.

Starting with a members drive in the fall by the ISU student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers to boost membership, the team consists of freshmen through seniors and has an outreach event selling pizzas every week to help raise money. As it has to provide all the tools and materials needed as well as transportation to events, team members also go to neighboring companies to find sponsors to help reduce costs. EFCO and Central Iowa Powder Coaters are the top two sponsors of the team.

With a couple meetings per week, the Steel Bridge Team allows students to network and make new friends.

“I was a prospective student in high school when I did a tour and this was one of the clubs they showed me,” Barone said. “It immediately sparked my interest on that.”

The group is largely made up of construction and civil engineers, but is open to all disciplines. This year was somewhat of a rebuilding year, as the group lost around 90 percent of members from last year.

“Our club is largely based on younger members, getting them experience on how to build and design gives us a much better advantage,” Lentz said.

Being on the construction crew allows students to gain experience in bridge design. A certain number of students are elected to put the bridge together at competition. A large time commitment exists, spending five to six hours at a time building and rebuilding the bridge and reducing as much time as possible from setup.