News: Around our Diverse Asia-Pacific Region

2012 West Point Bridge Design contest involves four Japan high schools

Published Feb. 28, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan – High School students from four Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools in Japan were posed with a problem Feb. 23 at Zama American High School here. In approximately one hour each student must design and build a model of a bridge that will enable a loaded truck to pass over a river. The bridge must be functional and affordable.  Every dollar will be tabulated for all materials based on a common scale. The best bridge must withstand the load and be delivered at the lowest price, thereby delivering the best value.

Approximately 35 students from ZAHS, Kinnick High School at Yokosuka Naval Base, Kubasaki High School at Camp Foster, Okinawa, and Kadena High School at Kadena Air Base competed as individuals in West Point Bridge Design contest. West Point provides this contest as a service to education—and as a tribute to the Academy's two hundred years of service to the United States of America, and Japan Engineer District has promoted the competition in Japan several times since its inception. This is the third consecutive year.

The United States Military Academy presented the eleventh annual West Point Bridge Design contest to provide middle and high school students with a realistic, engaging introduction to  engineering.

It was no coincidence that the competition is held annually during National Engineers Week, or EWeek. Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in 1951, EWeek (February 19–25, 2012) is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by growing interest in engineering and technology careers, and ensuring understanding of engineering.

NSPE states that “EWeek is a formal coalition of more than 70 engineering, education, and cultural societies, and more than 50 corporations and government agencies. Dedicated to raising public awareness of engineers' positive contributions to quality of life, EWeek promotes recognition among parents, teachers, and students of the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science, and technology literacy, and motivates youth, to pursue engineering careers in order to provide a diverse and vigorous engineering workforce. Each year, EWeek reaches thousands of schools, businesses, and community groups across the U.S.”

The West Point Bridge Design Contest is a vehicle for Japan Engineer District to locally commemorate EWeek.  As the Department of Defense (DoD) design and construction agent for U.S. Forces and other agencies that provides quality, professional and comprehensive engineering, construction, and other value-added services in support of peacetime and contingency operations in Japan and throughout the Pacific region, the command also takes seriously the responsibility to promote engineering among students here.

In 2009 the contest was held in a classroom at Zama American High School.  Last year Kinnick High School participated in the competition online. For the first time four area high schools fought it out last week.

Colonel Bryan P. Truesdell, Japan Engineer District Commander, explained to the competitors that what they spent just more than an hour doing used to take a full day.

One would think that building bridges for a school assignment would require toothpicks, cardboard, disposable chopsticks and glue and involve many calculations and tests. Instead, these students keyed data into a program on desktop computers and chose materials for strength and value and designed a bridges with tresses, cables and supports.

Tests were conducted by choosing ‘load test’ from a menu. After pressing the ‘load test’ button, a truck attempts to cross the bridge. If the crossing is successful, the student has a functioning bridge. Student designers are informed of bridge stress areas where improvements can be made. If the bridge fails, it’s back to the drawing board. A successful crossing sparked the students to switch out building material to bring the cost down without losing effectiveness.

Josh Munford, a ZAHS senior whose father is a Navy senior chief aviation mechanic and wants to become an automotive mechanic, saw the competition as a creative way to practice problem solving and come up with ideas to design a better bridge. Mumford stated that he’s doing it for his class grade.

Christopher Reynolds, a ZAHS freshman, hopes to become a computer science engineer. His aunt is a computer science expert who works in forensics, and he hopes to continue the technical field in the family.

Nikki Haddock, a senior at ZAHS who has been accepted to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has no engineers in the family but plans to major in engineering. She said “I’m a little nervous, but confident and think I’d like to focus on mechanical engineering.” She said the contest was a good way to practice what may be her future.

High school student pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers experienced first-hand the types of challenges engineers encounter. Students were also able to verify why Japan Engineer District, as part of Pacific Ocean Division, is the nation’s premier public service engineering and construction organization in the Asia-Pacific region that solves similar problems daily. Some students could end up as part of the Japan District team after college. The contest this year was coordinated by Brad Scully and John Feller, district engineers. They were assisted by district engineer volunteers Kim Chu, Lance Young, Ron Neal, Samuel Ng, Takayuki Sasaki and Roger Roe. Daniela Wagus also assisted from Okinawa.

When time was called, results were tabulated and the winners were: third place-Greg Bryant from Kadena High School designed a bridge for 237,536.33; second place—Robert Beard from Kinnick High School’s bridge cost 231,961.12; and the first place winner was David Bordenave from ZAHS who bested the field with a functioning bridge for 221,726.00.

Roe, an experienced engineer, noted “the infectious enthusiasm of the student competitors. They showed that work can be fun.” He also commended the dedication and effort extended by Jay Ruetten, Zama American High School career and technical education instructor, Feller and Scully in sponsoring the event.

Ng, an electrical engineer at Japan District, who also designed a bridge alongside the students, said that the event was, “enjoyable and educational.”

Neal, an engineer at Yokosuka Naval Base, said, “The students were very interested in working on the computer to design a bridge. They were well prepared by their classroom teacher, Mr. Jim Rowell. At the beginning of the contest, his clear and instructions allowed all students to set the parameters of the bridge design software and begin work immediately. It didn't take long for students to test their first designs. They enjoyed watching an animated truck drive over their bridge and watching as the bridge flexed and bounced. They continued to improve their design by making successful bridges as light and inexpensive as possible. I believe this exercise was very valuable to show the thought process engineer's use in the design process. It allows the students to experience this logical thinking and see if they may have an aptitude for this kind of activity.”

Truesdell presented a certificate to Bordenave. Other winners will receive certificates and prizes at their respective schools, delivered by a resident Japan Engineer District professional. Truesdell also explained that such projects today are best tackled as a collaboration between individual engineers, and even companies collaborate to get the best sustainable solutions. He told the students, “We are always better when we collaborating as a team.”

The 2012 West Point Bridge Design Contest is the third education event Japan District has supported to promote STEM in Japan DoDEA schools in recent months. These initiatives are keeping with the district’s goal to encourage students to learn about engineering through realistic, hands-on problem-solving experiences.

Mieko Yonaha

Release no. 12-013