I definitely faced my toughest challenges at UVA through the steel bridge competition. My experience started as a third year student when I decided to volunteer to assist a team of fourth year students who were working on the bridge project as part of their technical thesis. I ended up making great friends and learning about steel, structural design, and leadership.
I was the captain of the 2015 bridge team and worked hard to live up to the success of our 2014 team. The competition challenges civil engineering students by tasking them with designing and fabricating a complete functioning structure. To design the bridge, students have to apply concepts from a range of classes. Unfortunately, coursework often deals with overly simple scenarios or isolated problems. Dealing with the intricacies of an entire structural system is a complicated process that students quickly gain an appreciation for. After finishing the design, students leave the classroom behind as they face the challenge of steel fabrication. Prior to the competition, I had never worked with steel before, and my knowledge of material properties was entirely from textbooks. After countless hours spent welding, cutting, grinding, cleaning, drilling, and hammering steel, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and appreciation for the physical processes involved. Steel fabrication and construction is a difficult endeavor that is often underappreciated by new structural engineers. The valuable experience I’ve gained from the competition will certainly benefit my future work as an engineer. I cannot recommend enough for students to take risks and try different challenges, find what they are passionate about, and work hard at it.