Area Bridge Builders Shine in Annual Competition

June 19th, 2015 9:26 am

First Posted: 2/10/2014

Area students competed at the 2014 Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Bridge Building Competition on Feb. 8 at the Viewmont Mall. About 50 bridge builders gathered from school districts from 19 counties to showcase their bridges made of basswood that weighed no more than 25 grams and had to be less than 400 millimeters long and 80 millimeters wide.

The specific guidelines were provided by the competition’s directors and local engineering experts and educators, Donald Kieffer and Paul Schneider. The strict guidelines did little to hinder creativity or success, with some bridges supporting up to 3,000 times their weight, Kieffer, of Clarks Summit, said.

Kate O’Connor, an architectural professor from Marywood University who assisted in the contest marveled at the talent, enthusiasm and pride shown by competitors. She was impressed with the level of creativity exhibited by each builder and their ability to marry “design and structure.”

Going through the actual building process provides an “interactive” learning experience, O’Connor said. It requires more student involvement than working in a virtual computer-generated world. The contest was evaluated using technically “non-biased” criteria, she said.

Jackson Renninger, one of two competitors from Abington Heights High School, participated for the first time. He said his bridge was the last of 10 trials. Renninger tried to utilize “Pratt Truss” techniques.

Nathan Laubham, from Abington Heights High School, constructed a lighter bridge, weighing about 9 grams. However, his span reached a load capacity of over 3,600 times its weight which landed him in sixth place.

The first-place trophy went to Parth Bhoiwala from North Pocono High School with a load efficiency 5,507 times its weight. He also went with a lighter design, his bridge weighed just 6.34 grams but held 34,917 grams. Bhoiwala said he used a lot of “triangles” in his design because they “hold a lot of weight.”

Second place went Zach Shnipes from Valley View High School and third to Dawid Rychek from Pocono Mountain East High School. Shnipes also won the excellence in architecture award based on aesthetics.

Morgan Walsh from Carbondale High School said her bridge was a little “too fancy” and had to be pared down to meet competitive limits; Joshua Stankowski from Scranton High School was “pleased with the results” after his first competition this year.

The bridges were checked by professionals from local engineering firms and schools, according to Kieffer. The winners of the competition are eligible for scholarships and in the running for the international honors in Chicago this spring.

O’Connor hopes the contest can build some interest in local students to pursue careers in engineering.

“The world needs more engineers than lawyers,” she said.