Engineering team heads to nationals

Five GW students held up under pressure at Saturday’s regional steel bridge competition, constructing a bridge that supported more than one ton. The GW student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers swept six of seven categories at the competition, securing a spot at the national competition next month.

About 60 spectators watched the competition, held in the parking lot of Tompkins Hall.

The GW team, which includes sophomore Jeff Rakitt, sophomore Johann Aakre, junior Rodolfo Guarra, junior Nick Parypinski and senior team leader Nathan Campeau, competed against teams from Johns Hopkins and Howard universities. GW and Howard will move on to the national steel bridge competition in Clemson, S.C., May 25 and 26.

GW won the regional competition last year at Morgan State University in Baltimore, but was disqualified at the national competition in Austin, Texas, because the group’s bridge had too much sway, meaning it moved too much as weights were added. Campeau said the team improved cross bracing on its bridge this year to reduce sway.

Campeau said GW is capable of a top-15 finish at nationals.

The steel bridge had to span a 13-foot gap, replicating a cross-section
of a river and hold 2,000 pounds of L-shaped steel plates in its center with an additional 500 pounds on one side.

The bridges were judged on seven criteria modeled after the requirements of an actual steel bridge construction, including total bridge weight, construction speed, aesthetics, stiffness, potential construction cost, structural efficiency and total cost of construction.

GW took first place in six categories, with the Howard team winning the stiffness category. The Johns Hopkins team was disqualified after its bridge began to buckle during the stiffness portion of the competition.

Students in the GW ASCE chapter designed the bridge in the fall and constructed it this semester in the Tompkins Hall machine shop.

Rakitt participated in the steel bridge competition as a freshman. He said it has been a “hands-on” experience that helped him prepare for engineering courses.

Campeau said the competition allows students to take what they learn in the classroom and “put it into something you can see.”

“It’s the best thing I’ve done since I’ve been here,” Aakre said.

Engineers from the private and public sector in the D.C. area judged the competition.

Todd Hertzer, a judge and engineer from the Whiting-Turner construction company, a corporate sponsor of the competition, said the contest forces students to be practical engineers.

“Designing and building goes a long way,” he said.

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