VT Steel Bridge Team builds their way to national competition

In the early 2000’s, the Virginia Tech Steel Bridge team consistently placed in the top 10 teams at the national competition, a few times competing for first place. This year’s team wants to return to that excellence that was built years ago. “We want this year to be the start of something great to build off of for the next couple of years,” said team captain Cody Furrow.

The competition, which takes place in Corvalis, Oregon this year, progresses through several different tasks and has specific rules that change each year. The first stage is the construction portion where the team assembles their bridge. The goal is to be under 30 minutes, with a significant penalty for teams that go over that time. This portion is scored based on the number of builders used to build the bridge and the construction speed.

If the team passes the construction test, they move on to the display portion, where judges score the overall appearance of the bridge and poster. The poster explains the team’s unique design process and which factors are used to build the bridge as fast as possible. If necessary, the poster serves as a tie breaker.

Next is the load test. Each bridge that makes it to this stage of the competition must be able to support 2,500 pounds distributed between two different points. “The goal of this stage is to minimize deflection, while also having as light of a bridge as possible,” noted team captain Joseph Spaziani. The bridge weight is the strongest point for Virginia Tech’s team. In fact, at the regional competition, their bridge was almost 100 pounds lighter than the second place team in that category. “I think we can be competitive at nationals because our bridge weight is quite low and is definitely our strongest point in the competition,” Spaziani said.

The team has been preparing to compete since August, starting with brainstorming bridge design to fabricating the entire bridge. In addition to their strenuous class loads, the team also makes plenty of time to practice by assembling the bridge as many times as possible. They do load tests and make modifications to the bridge along the way. There are 40 team members that help with design and fabrication, but only eight will be traveling to Oregon State University in Corvalis, Oregon for the national competition.

Team members that will be traveling to Oregon are:

Joseph Spaziani – Team captain and build team member
Cody Furrow – Team captain and build team member
Laura Wild – Team captain
Ryan Stevens – Future team captain and build team member
Michael Kokal – Future team captain and build team member
Cody Huffman –  Build team member
Katelyn Karis – Steel bridge team member
Michele Mackey – Steel bridge team member

“The thing that I am looking forward to at the national competition is showing off all of our hard work from the year while representing Virginia Tech,” said Furrow. “I find it really cool that we are representing Virginia Tech while competing against teams around the world.” All team members agreed that they also look forward to networking and meeting students from around the world to learn about their challenges in bridge design and to meet students interested in their same program area.

The national steel bridge competition began in the 1980s as a competition between three universities as a cooperative effort between the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The top teams from conference competitions advance to nationals, with approximately 200 schools from around the world competing. Virginia Tech also advanced to nationals in 2009 and 2015.

For live updates from the competition, follow @VirginiaTechCEE on Twitter. Team captain Laura Wild will be sending live updates from Oregon.