Steel Bridge Club aims to make nationals at next competition

Annie Cassutt

After coming in third place for the past two years at the Student Steel Bridge Competition, the members of the Iowa State Steel Bridge Club are motivated to come in second place at the regional competition this year in order to advance to nationals like they did in 2014.

The club meets twice a week to prepare for its competition on March 29 at the University of Iowa. The competition includes 12 clubs from universities around the Midwest, and the top two teams will advance to the national competition held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

All the members share a love and passion for building bridges.

“I’m in Steel Bridge just to get to connect with more of my classmates, and to share a mutual love of bridges with each other,” said Kara Kieffer, senior in civil engineering. “I worked a job that I got to help design and inspect bridges, and that’s kind of where I really fell in love with it.”

Leilah Armstrong, senior in civil engineering, has known that she wanted to major in civil engineering since she was a sophomore in high school, as her father was a civil engineer.

“I used to travel a decent amount with my dad when I was younger, and I would ask him about the structures around me, and bridges always fascinated me the most,” Armstrong said. “I kind of hoped getting here that I would get to learn a little more about design, and I love a competition environment.”

The team is hoping to improve from last years’ competition by looking at what specifically they fell short on and refining those skills.  The three most important categories at the competition are deflection, weight and construction time. The average scores in those categories are then calculated to see how many millions of dollars the bridge would then take to construct.

“Last year we designed this to be put together in five minutes, but it took us 16 instead, so that was quite disappointing ” said Joni Truong, the club’s treasurer. “Our design was fine- we actually got first place in deflection.”

The trip to the competition lasts Thursday through Sunday, but the actual competition is an all-day affair on Saturday.

The team usually leaves from campus on Thursday night and attends a social event when they arrive at the school the competition is being held at. Friday is reserved for construction practice, and is also the first time the team gets a look at their competitors bridge.  

“At the competition…first we put them together-construction-then it goes to lateral low test, so it gets pulled from the side so it doesn’t sway, and that is only a pass fail,” Truong said. “Once you pass that, then you get to load your bridge.”

Preparing for the competition is a time consuming process. Aside from meeting twice a week the entire year, the weeks leading up to competition consist of many late nights.

“The week before competition-that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday- we stayed here [the lab] until 2 am, just putting this [the bridge] together,” Truong said.

Though competition time can be stressful, many members have fond memories of competing as a team. 

“I really did get to enjoy seeing the bridge come together,” Armstrong said. “That’s a neat spectacle in and of itself, but I’ve got to say some of the social time was really great too, getting to know the people.”