photo of student building steel bridge
ASCE has renewed its partnership with the American Institute of Steel Construction for the student steel bridge competition, starting with the 2021-2022 school year.

ASCE has renewed its partnership with the American Institute of Steel Construction for the annual student steel bridge competition, starting with the 2021-2022 school year.

The two organizations plan to run regional competitions at ASCE student symposia throughout North America with a national championship scheduled for May. The groups previously worked together on the competition but separated three years ago. The new partnership runs for an initial term of five years.

“With both AISC and ASCE committed to promoting safe, sustainable, and innovative practices and technologies, we are pleased to renew this partnership and join forces in developing, educating, and motivating the next generation of design and construction professionals,” said ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith.

“Our vision for all ASCE student symposia includes a portfolio of competitions and professional development opportunities that provide exceptional value to our student members. The steel bridge competition is a popular event, and our students will be thrilled to see it added to the symposia program.”

“This new agreement also provides a foundation for ASCE to build upon the successful North American competition through steel bridge competitions in other global regions,” Smith continued. “More than ever, civil engineering is a global practice. What better way to advance our profession than to promote global exchange at the collegiate level?” 

The organizations severed their longtime steel bridge partnership in 2018, meaning that the steel bridge competition was not an official ASCE student activity during the past three school years. During that time, ASCE created new Society-wide student competitions and built a new conference structure to better connect students with Society leaders and professional development opportunities.

The upcoming school year marks the launch of ASCE’s student symposia, which will now include the steel bridge competition in addition to the recently created events and competitions.

“Personally, I am very excited that our two organizations renewed their partnership,” said Scott Schiff, Ph.D., M.ASCE, a professor and undergraduate program director in the civil engineering department at Kansas State University and chair of the ASCE Committee on Student Conferences and Competitions.

“The Committee on Student Conferences and Competitions, with the support of the Committee on Student Members and the Board of Direction, has been actively engaged in reimagining student symposia to create flagship events that appeal to and provide exceptional value to ASCE student members.

“Having this renewed partnership allows the student steel bridge competition to be offered along with other established Society-wide competitions that span across multiple civil engineering disciplines. All these competitions provide opportunities for students to showcase their civil engineering knowledge, creativity, and ingenuity, as well as demonstrate teamwork, leadership, and communication skills.”

The student steel bridge competition began in 1987, challenging student teams to develop a scale-model steel bridge to fit a given hypothetical environment. Each team must determine how to design and fabricate a bridge and then plan for an efficient assembly under timed construction at the competition. Bridges are then load-tested and weighed.

The competition has long been a hallmark of the ASCE student experience and a formative learning experience for generations of civil engineers.

Tom Miller, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, associate professor of civil and construction engineering at Oregon State University and the school’s steel bridge team advisor for decades, remembers how the educational value of steel bridge showed up during his team’s very first competition nearly 30 years ago.

The Oregon State students were concerned that their bridge was too heavy and would take too long to construct, so they plotted drastic action.

“The judges that year had removed the lateral load test from the contest,” Miller said. “So, our team unanimously decided to remove the bracing of the top chord, seeing that as its main purpose.”

It seemed like a good fix until …

“As the bridge was loaded with the 2,500 pounds, the top chords of the arched truss buckled under the compression forces, and the bridge collapsed,” Miller said.

“As one student, Karl Birky, said, ‘I learned more in that few seconds when the bridge collapsed than in any of Dr. Miller’s classes!’”