Steel Bridge Competition Unites Students at ASCE Nationals

Steel Bridge Competition Unites Students at ASCE Nationals

by Gustavo Gonzalez | June 1, 2016

“Rise above the storm and you will find the sunshine.”
— Mario Fernandez

The path was not easy but with hard work and consistency, we made it possible. Illinois Institute of Technology qualified for Nationals thanks to an amazing group of passionate students dedicated to this project. As Co-Captain of this remarkable team, I have to say that it was not an easy path to get to where we stand today. Designing and building a bridge is a unique experience; a chance to do what we love. As any leadership, it comes with a lot of responsibility. I was nervous but I knew that with effort and a team with a specific set of skills, we could do it. And achieve our common goal, representing IIT in the national steel bridge competition. Through the entire process, the team was focused on the bridge, but we had other responsibilities such as studying for exams, homework; some of us were working as interns for engineering firms in Chicago. We spent half of the day in classes or working and the other half dedicated to our bridge. It wasn’t easy but our goal kept us awake. We became more like a family, the shop was our second house where we spent at least six hours every day and during the weekends all day long.

After we finished the bridge, we tested it to see if all those months of hard work were finally worth it. When loading the bridge, we all were scared and very nervous. That moment would decide our performance in the competition that was in the next two weeks. We loaded almost 2100lbs. when, suddenly, one of the bolts of the bottom chord snapped. The weight of the load plus the self-weight of the bridge cut the bolt in two perfect halves due to the shear force that the bolt was taking. And the bridge collapsed. After analyzing what could be wrong, we realized that the bolts being used weren’t the right ones. We decided to test the bridge again with the high strength bots, and the bridge held the weight without any problems.  

Practice makes perfection. The bridge was complete. All that was left was practice in order to build it as fast as we could to get better results in the competition with the least number of penalties possible. The first time we practice our time was around 17 minutes. This wasn’t bad time but it wouldn’t take us to our goal. We started practicing every day. During those two weeks of practice, we learned to build the bridge almost with our eyes closed.

Our time improved, it was now around seven minutes or less. In the regional competition, we built it fast but with several mistakes that were not predicted. We were obviously very nervous, after those mistakes, we didn’t know if qualifying for nationals was still an option for us. The other universities were also well prepared and the minimum mistake could leave us out of the competition. 

At the end, all our effort was completely worth it. We won second place and qualified for the national competition. We now had to prepare to compete against 50 of the best universities in the USA that includes some other universities from China, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada. 

The team practiced more and more trying to reach perfection. We made time between classes and studying for finals to keep practicing and made some final adjustments. Welding some bolts to the bridge to reduce our time to the minimum and organizing the members in certain ways that could save us seconds.

May was a busy month, between practicing, organizing the trip to nationals in Utah, giving presentations to companies to find sponsorship.

On May 25th., we departed for Utah. We were living our dream of going to the national competition, but the pressure became bigger since we wanted to leave a good image of IIT. The next day we needed to get back on track and get some practice before the competition. We also met other teams that came from Alaska, Virginia, even from Mexico and Puerto Rico. It was good to see all those teams and getting to know very friendly and talented people that also went through a lot to get there. 

The display was on Friday, where all the bridges are shown to the public. This was the moment we truly understood how hard the competition was going to be, 48 incredible bridges, all of them with an amazing level of perfection. We were very anxious and our dream of making history for IIT seemed more difficult than expected.

The day of the competition arrived and we were ready, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we worked hard, and all the time and effort we spent on the bridge was going to be worth it. 

Suddenly, we hear “Illinois Tech is next” we gathered for the last time, we trusted each other and we also knew exactly what to do. 

Everything went smoothly, the team was perfectly synchronized and after six minutes and eight seconds we finished our bridge with no penalties. We were extremely happy and proud of ourselves. The bridge passed the lateral and vertical test without problems.


That same night, after a couple of speeches and a wonderful meal, the ASCE board started giving the awards. The first category to be awarded was Construction Speed. The speaker says: "Illinois Institute of Technology, 3rd place!" We hugged each other; the happiness in our faces was priceless. We could not stop smiling and jumping around like little kids. It was a very exciting moment for all of us, all the work we put in was paying off that day and we deserved it. 

We made it possible, along with our mentors that helped achieve our goal. Stan Johnson and Jorge Cobo were a crucial part of our team. Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible and we are grateful to call them part of our team.

Thanks IIT for the support and to all the members of ASCE. 

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
— Pierre de Coubertin


Finally, GO HAWKS!!  


Gustavo Gonzalez

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