Civil Engineering students earn accolades in intercollegiate competition

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Constantinos Papacostas, (808) 956-6538
Professor & Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Gaur Johnson, (808) 956-2377
Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Posted: Aug 28, 2014

The winning design.
The winning design.
Bridge under construction.
Bridge under construction.

A UH Mānoa Civil Engineering team excelled among intercollegiate rivals at the 2014 Student Steel Bridge Competition jointly organized by the American Steel Bridge Construction (AISC) and American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The student team from the UH College of Engineering was led by Kristy Nakamoto, who also shared design responsibilities with Aaron Sewake.  Fabrication leader John Kim explained that the group spent six months fabricating and practicing their assembly sequence in preparation for the Pacific Southwest regional competition, which was held in April at San Diego State University.  UH placed in all categories and earned second place overall among the 18 participating colleges.

The top three teams at regional competitions (including Mexico and China) advanced to the finals, held at the University of Akron in Ohio in May.  The UH team was awarded first place among the 48 participants for structure’s stiffness, defined as the least amount of vertical deflection under load.

Experiential learning, that is, learning by doing, is fast becoming an integral part of contemporary engineering education, complementing traditional classroom and laboratory training.  As the sponsors describe it, the competition gives “civil engineering students a comprehensive, student-driven project experience from conception and design through fabrication, erection and testing, culminating in a steel structure that meets client specifications and optimizes both performance and economy.  Categories of the competition are display, construction speed, lightness, stiffness, construction economy, and structural efficiency.” This encourages innovative thinking in order to strike a reasonable balance between these competing criteria.

Specifications for the design are detailed in a 35-page document of prescriptive rules simulating a real-world request for proposals. Each team is required to construct a one-tenth scale bridge, using only steel, loose bolts, and loose nuts, with each piece not exceeding specified dimensions. The bridge cannot be more than 5 feet above the ground and must span between 17 and 19 feet. It also needs to support a load of 2,400 lbs. At the competition, the time it takes for the students to assemble the bridge is also timed.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Gaur Johnson, the UH team’s faculty advisor, described the experience: “Aspiring structural engineers and contractors have fun testing the limits of materials they learn about in class without severe consequences if things go wrong.  I enjoyed helping the students explore the consequences of their design decisions through computer modeling, destructive load testing of components, and constructible connection detailing.  I also learned new things along the way.”

Added C.S. Papacostas, Professor and Chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, “Merely participating in the regionals carries its own educational rewards, but to place second there, and also to do so well at the finals, is a testament of the high quality of our civil engineering program and students.”

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