Michigan middle and high school students continued their dominance of a national bridge-building competition event in Seattle last week as teams from around the state took five of the top nine places.
And a team from Negaunee High School in Negaunee, near Marquette, came out on top in the older age group, continuing to dominate the competition as it has done for a decade.
Michigan students competed against other young engineers from around the U.S. at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Bridge Challenge competition May 16 in Seattle.
The teams spend months building miniature bridges, which are then judged on design and tested to destruction.
The competition has five phases: using software to design a bridge; building a physical bridge model using glue and balsa wood from pre-packaged kits; developing a portfolio; making a presentation in front of a panel of judges; and, finally, destructive testing of the bridge models to calculate their strength-to-weight ratios.
Eighteen squads competed in the national finals this year, selected from a pool of 86 portfolios. Besides Michigan, teams from California, Florida, Maryland, and Mississippi qualified for the nationals.
The competition's goal is to develop a bridge that will carry as much weight as possible while weighing as little as possible.
Students compete in separate age categories: grades 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12.
Michigan teams took first place honors in all three age categories and second place in two categories.
All team members receive medals and cash prizes were awarded, with first place teams getting $1,200, second place teams receiving $900, and third place teams receiving $600.
This national contest is part of AASHTO’s educational outreach program, supported by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Since 2004, MDOT has offered the Transportation and Civil Engineering (TRAC) program to schools. It’s a hands-on curriculum designed for integration into science, math and social science classes with the goal of encouraging kids to pursue engineering and other science-related fields.
"Keeping our nation competitive is going to require a new wave of young engineers," said acting MDOT director Brad Wieferich. "And it's clear we have some of the best right here in Michigan. MDOT is proud to support this contest. This is a great way to inspire and nurture tomorrow's engineers and it continues MDOT’s long tradition of workforce development."
Michigan teams have excelled at the competition for years.
For the 10th year in a row, a team from Negaunee High School in Negaunee, advised by Kevin Bell, won the 11th-12th grade division of the national bridge challenge as they did in 2019, the last time this contest was held in person before the 2023 event.
The contest switched gears to become a virtual showcase in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While remaining virtual in 2022, it returned to a competitive format.
The bridge challenge is part of MDOT's TRAC program curriculum. More information is available at www.Michigan.gov/MDOT-TRAC.
2023 AASHTO Bridge Challenge winners
7th - 8th Grade Division
1st Place: Patriotic G.A.S. - Sophia Jiang, Ananyaa Rakkappan, and Grace Zhao - Meads Mill Middle School, Northville, Mich.
2nd Place: CN^2 - Nikki Cox, Colton Rogers, and Natalee Tran - Mantachie Middle School, Mantachie, Miss.
3rd Place: TRUSSworthy Pals - Angel Adesoji, Rony Quijada, and Chiezita Uzoukwu - Chesapeake Math and IT Academy North Middle School, Laurel, Md.
9th - 10th Grade Division
1st Place: Tied Arch Titans - Joshua Lee, Jonas Yan, and Sriraam Hebbar - Northville High School, Northville, Mich.
2nd Place: Mission ImBALSAble - Katelyn Baker, Mattis Riddle, and Kamryn Van Sickle - Clinton High School, Clinton, Mich.
3rd Place: BEHS Young Team 1 - Kelan Dennis, Guiliano Jules, and Anjan Kumar Sangam - Blanche Ely High School, Pompano Beach, Fla.
11th - 12th Grade Division
1st Place: 906 Bridge Co. - Ryan Hemmila, Thomas McCollum, and Phil Nelson - Negaunee High School, Negaunee, Mich.
2nd Place: SAB Civil Engineering - Desiree Almeida, Page Baker, and Nathaniel Sherick - LISD Tech Center, Adrian, Mich.
3rd Place: Tackticians - Adreas Aghajanian, Hayden Schricker, and Logan Weinstein - Taft Charter High School, Woodland Hills, Calif.