NU civil engineering club rebuilds, constructs bridges

Elyssa Cherney

Francesca Ferrero was intrigued when she stumbled upon a graveyard of model bridges in the basement of the Technological Institute.

“They looked really cool,” the McCormick senior said. “Seeing those bridges made me think, ‘Oh, I want to try to do that,’ but I didn’t really realize what I was getting myself into.”

This discovery prompted the revival of Northwestern’s chapter of The American Society of Civil Engineers. Membership increased from only two members last year to nearly 40 this year and for the first time since 2003, a team of students competed in a regional bridge-making competition. The team began building this year’s bridge in September.

“In school we talk about building bridges, but we never actually get to make one,” said Ferraro, the membership chair of NU’s ASCE.

With a group of about six students, Ferraro designed, constructed and welded together a 1:10 scale model of a bridge. They raised over $8,000 in corporate donations to fund the 21-foot long structure. The team competed with this bridge at the ASCE Great Lakes Student Conference on April 2, where it was tested to see how much weight it supported.

Due to a difference in interpretation of the rules, the bridge was disqualified. Ferraro filed an appeal, but said she is still happy with the team’s performance.

Though most teams at these competitions have built up years of experience, the NU team was essentially starting from scratch, said David Corr, a McCormick associate professor and advisor for the team.

“The competitive teams have a lot of institutional knowledge that is handed down,” he said. “All of ours is gone because it has been a number of years since we competed.”

The NU team was able to learn from the 11 more experienced groups at the Great Lakes Student Conference, said McCormick junior Galen Reed, the competitive chair for next year’s team. Most teams openly talked about their designs and Reed said it helped him see some of his mistakes.

Galen said the social aspects of building the steel bridges are just as valuable as the technical experience.

“Getting to know the other people within the department and getting to work with different students and different faculty was one of the most rewarding parts,” he said.

Steel Bridge’s enthusiasm to work with and meet new people is a large reason to which Corr attributes the growth of ASCE.

“It generated a lot of excitement within the civil engineering students,” he said. “They beat the ground and got people excited, they raised a lot of money and they got a lot of creative ways for people to enroll in ASCE.”

One of Steel Bridge’s final activities for this year will be destroying the bridge they created. On May 16, they will load the bridge with weight and test their calculations until it breaks.

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