UTSA’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Steel Bridge Team took first place at the ASCE Texas-Mexico conference held January 17-18, 2014, at the Maverick Activities Center on The University of Texas at Arlington campus. Though winning for the second year in a row is quite an accomplishment for the team, especially after a 16-year dry spell, team captain Hiep Nguyen says there is something more rewarding than taking home the first place prize.
“Winning is great, but the most rewarding part of the process is we get to learn more about our fellow classmates,” said Nguyen, a College of Engineering (COE) senior Civil Engineering major and president of the Steel Bridge Team. “In the beginning, we barely know each other, but by the end, we are all close. We have lot of fun experiences together.”
But the competition is not all fun and games. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) webpage, the purpose of the competition is to provide civil engineering students with a comprehensive project experience involving the design and building of their own scaled down steel bridge. The students are required to do their own design, fabrication, erection and testing with client specifications. The UTSA team received a 50-page booklet describing the specifications their bridge had to abide by.
“A lot of people who join the team at the beginning, they don’t know what to do,” said Nguyen. “And we are like, ‘Don’t worry about it, we will teach you.’ And it’s a great learning experience for me too because I’ve been on the side before. I didn’t understand what the team captain actually goes through. The team captain does a lot of stuff in the background, planning the meetings, getting the materials, finding sponsors. And we design the bridge and teach the team as we put it together.”
Nguyen says that working on the team allows the participants to apply what they learned in class, outside of class. Dr. Tom Papagiannakis, COE Civil and Environmental Engineering department chair, said that working as part of a team is rewarding for the students, and the winning is the icing on the cake – the students came back from the competition a couple of inches taller.
“We have a beautiful and very strong bridge; 2500 pounds with less than 1/4 inch deflection,” said Papagiannakis. “It looks very good.”
The team started working together in August and had to design the bridge to very detailed specifications as dictated by ASCE. In October, the team actually started building the bridge in pieces in the engineering machine shop on the UTSA Main Campus, and finished it a few days after Christmas. Even though the fabrication was done, the team still had a lot of work to do.
“We practiced every day, 5 to 6 hours, putting the bridge together until January 17; that’s what it takes to win,” said Nguyen. “The first time we tried to put it together, it took us more than 30 minutes, but we ended up putting it together in 13 and a half minutes at the event. That time placed us third in the speed portion of the competition.”
The team also placed second in the display and the lightness portions of the competition, third place in stiffness, and first place in efficiency and economy, as well as taking the overall win. This year makes the first time a UTSA team has won the competition twice in a row.
“Winning once may be considered fortuitous, winning twice proves we have got it,”said Papagiannakis. “Next year they will be watching us, we will be the ones to beat.”
The team is headed to ASCE’s national competition May 23-24, 2014 which will be held University of Akron in Ohio. To learn more about the UTSA ASCE Steel Bridge Team, visit http://asceutsa.weebly.com.