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Akron -- Despite harsh weather that prevented more than half the registered schools from competing, dozens of young engineers gathered Jan. 24 to test their skills and know-how at the 14th-annual Miniature Bridge Building Competition, hosted by the Summit County Engineer's Office.
Students from 16 Summit County schools -- including two teams from Hudson's Western Reserve Academy and two teams from Twinsburg High School -- ultimately represented their schools at the University of Akron Student Union during the competition.
Springfield High School went home with the top two awards in the competition (earning the team members $100 each), with the school's Team 2 taking first, breaking at 58.5 pounds, and Team 1 taking second, supporting 52.6 pounds at its breaking point. WRA's Team 2 took third place overall, earning team members $50 each with a bridge that broke at 32.4 pounds.
Guided by their faculty coaches, teams worked hard to delegate drafting and construction responsibilities.
Western Reserve Academy sophomore and WRA Team 2 member Max Borrmann said his team was confident after the first hour of construction.
"I think it's coming along pretty well," Borrmann said. "We're moving pretty quickly, getting our bridge done. So far, everything's been going smoothly."
As students resumed their work and engineering professionals and chaperones observed the activity, WRA coach and math and computer science teacher Jennifer Nagano said she was glad her students took advantage of the hands-on learning experience.
"I just think it's a great chance for them to get out of the classroom and do something a little bit different," Nagano said. "They learn a lot going through the entire process. Planning, designing, the testing. Seeing the results of your work. It's not just theoretical."
"They actually have an engineer telling them 'this is where you could have made it stronger,' so that's really neat," Sauder added.
Across the room, students from Twinsburg High School were also making headway with their projects.
Molly Sauder, Twinsburg coach and AP physics teacher at Twinsburg High School, said her students had to consider choice of adhesive, balancing strength, drying speed and ease of use.
"They had to plan out who's doing what, how long it'll take to make each piece," Sauder said.
The teams of up to three students each utilized bridge-building kits of balsa wood sticks and planks to construct 12-inch miniature bridges with 1.75-inch-wide road spans.
Bridges were tested and scored on adherence to construction requirements, design efficiency and maximum weight capacity.
After opening remarks by University of Akron Vice President of Strategic Engagement Jim Tressel, who wished the students "good luck" in the competition, students had three hours to combine wood components and self-supplied adhesive materials to complete their projects.
Design strategies included arches, straight tresses, combinations of the two and more.
During a break in construction, Twinsburg High School junior and THS Team 2 member Gordon Weiss said creating arches for his team's bridge was a delicate process.
"We had to soak it, so you can bend it without it breaking, and I had to glue it while it was still wet," Weiss said. "Honestly, I think we're doing pretty good, just seeing what's going on [with other teams]."
THS senior and Team 1 member Rachel Davis said her team's bridge was also progressing well at the one-hour mark, despite some initial difficulties, adding that she intended to put her engineering skills to use after high school.
"It's going well," Davis said. "We had a few hiccups, just with glue and such. We cut some things long, some things short, but we figured it all out. We have the entire bottom built, we just have to glue it on. I'm definitely going to go into engineering. Probably mechanical."
The student-built bridges were tested at 12:30 p.m., after three hours of construction.
Twinsburg's Team 1 finished in seventh place, breaking at 19.8 pounds, while Team 2 finished 15th, with their bridge breaking at 11.9 pounds.
WRA Team 1's bridge, which finished in 16th place, broke at 10 pounds.
Additionally, all competitors received eligibility for Summit County Engineer's Office scholarships, should they choose to pursue degrees in civil engineering after high school.
Win or lose, these young minds built solid bridges to their futures.