Students build first bridge to a life in engineering

Published 12 August 2010

bridgeplanFor the first time, a team of engineering students from the University of New England has competed in the annual Bridge Building Challenge organised by the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia (ACEA).

The Challenge, on Friday 6 August, took more than 100 undergraduate students from universities around NSW to Customs House Square at Circular Quay in Sydney. Their challenge was to build the lightest 2.5 metre model bridge, with limited materials, to carry a predetermined load. The bridges, which were tested to breaking point, were also judged on aesthetic considerations.

The Sydney Challenge is part of a broader, national competition. The ACEA says the competition is designed “to educate the public about what engineers do in their community”.

“Our main reason for entering the Challenge was the prestige of competing in the competition,” said the captain of the UNE team, Garry Blanco, who is in his third year of engineering studies at UNE. “It’s also an enjoyable thing to do, and a way to demonstrate the skills we’ve acquired and refined through our university studies.”

“Potential engineering students can often be daunted by the amount of mathematics and physics involved,” he explained, “and we hoped that competing in this Challenge would help UNE to show senior high school students that the study of engineering here is both practical and fun.”

The team included first-year students Joshua Wilton, Enya Clarke, Tim Dyball and Michael Williamson. “They have just completed a unit relating to fluid and solid mechanics,” Garry said, “so the way to calculate the forces involved was fresh in their minds.”

Dr Saeed Mahini, Lecturer in Civil Engineering at UNE, said that the Challenge had given the UNE students insights into practical, professional design work. Their bridge had satisfied the criteria of lightness and strength, he said, but it had lacked lateral stability when loaded because they had run out of time before installing the top bracing elements.

“The Bridge Building Challenge enables students to learn about real-world engineering challenges,” Dr Mahini said. “Globally, the construction of bridges begins with the kind of approaches these students took.”

UNE established its new Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree program in 2008. “We now have 85 to 90 (internal and external) students,” Dr Mahini said, “and we’re expecting up to 130 in 2011. It’s a demonstrated fact that engineers educated in a regional area are more likely to work in a regional area. UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science has a long-term plan for increasing student numbers in areas of need in rural and regional Australia. We’re pleased with the progress we are making.”

The Bridge Building Challenge was part of Australian Engineering Week 2010.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to  show (from left) Dr Saeed Mahini, Lecturer in Civil Engineering at UNE, with UNE’s Bridge Building Challenge team: Garry Blanco (team Captain), Tim Dyball, Joshua Wilton, and Enya Clarke. [Image: Danieli Studios]