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Steel Bridge

aiscThe SPSU Steel Bridge teams have achieved a national reputation for excellence. SPSU Steel Bridge teams have competed in all national competitions (more than 10) since inception of the national steel bridge competition in 1992. SPSU teams have placed in the top 5 in eight of the ten national competitions including twice tying for first place. The SPSU team’s success is largely due to the commitment ingrained in the team by their faculty advisor, Professor Mike Orlandella. The competitions require students to excel in teamwork, creativity, and problem solving. As these students have not normally worked together these skills must be learned “on-the-job”. The learning comes quickly as the students raise funds, search literature, create designs, seek vendors, order materials, write reports, fabricate, and conduct virtual and physical tests. The complete process is conducted in about a five-month period which enhances one more skill learned by team members: coping with stress and deadlines.


During the design stage, students learn another important fact. Bridges cost money and SPSU resources provide only a portion of the cost. At SPSU, the steel bridge competition is supported with funding from the Student Government Association and the Alumni Association. This funding totals about $6,500 for the Steel Bridge team. However, SPSU teams raise additional funds through industry supporters. Students make phone calls, send letters, and at times meet with industry supporters to request funding. The faculty advisor also meets with industry personnel to develop new supporters and maintain existing supporters.

2011 SPSU Team at National Competitions  



bridge2Students learn to make decisions among alternative choices with no guarantee of success. For example, the SPSU Steel Bridge team was trying to improve the bridge’s performance (under-load) for the National competition. Adding 4 new steel members would improve the bridge’s performance, but at the expense of adding construction time. The new members were not added and the team placed 6th which was the lowest finish for an SPSU team at a national competition. Another critical management decision occurred  at the national competition. The SPSU team had locked up 2nd place, but due to a judging error were given the opportunity to “go again” at the end of the competition. They could compete again but would not be guaranteed 2nd place. The team chose to “go again” but nerves and stress took their toll. With hundreds of other student team members, faculty and friends watching, they were slower (than the first time) at constructing their bridge and dropped to 4th place.


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*Source: STUDENT TEAM COMPETITIONS: A PATH TO CREATIVITY and PROBLEM SOLVING in CIVIL ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY by Michael Orlandella, Timothy Zeigler, Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition