Negaunee seniors place first in bridge-building competition

NEGAUNEE — In an event dominated by the State of Michigan, one local high school team took home the gold with an impressive entry.

Last week, students from 18 high schools across the country joined in Tennessee to participate in a bridge–building competition. Of the 18, nine of the teams came from Michigan. Seven of those teams placed in their respective divisions. The team that came out on top hailed from Negaunee High School.

“They’re able to use all their skills they received over their four years of high school, and finally put them towards a project where they can apply everything. So it’s really a neat project,” said Industrial Technology teacher Kevin Bell.

The project started early during the school year, and had plenty of steps.

“Well what we had to start doing was we had come up with the idea of the bridge, and then we had to start writing a paper, making drawings on a computer, and also performing tests on the computer,” said student Marc Herring. “And then we started building it.”

“Trial and error in the process,” added Isaac Varty, who also worked on the project.

“Learning a new program,” said teammate Daniel Nash.

One of the programs they used, Microstation Powerdraft, is the same one the Michigan Department of Transportation uses for their civil engineering. The competition was judged by the loads the bridge could hold, but it was more about efficiency; bridges that weighed less and could hold more would win the competition. They used Balsa wood, string, and glue.

“Basically sticks,” chuckled Herring.

It’s hard to imagine these materials carrying anything heavier than a few pounds, right?

“This thing is basically 54 grams, and held 356 pounds,” said Varty.

“The strength–to–weight ratio on that was really impressive,” said Bell.

It held a load over 2,880 times its weight.

With Michigan teams taking seven of the top nine spots, the competition was intense.

“Between the Michigan teams, it was pretty fierce,” said Varty. “We had all seen each other at the state competition, and we knew what each other’s designs were going to be. So we had to outthink the other teams, we didn’t know what the other teams would be like, so they were like a wildcard.”

Bell has been to the competition before. His experience in civil engineering and knowledge of the programs proved helpful to his students.

“He was a bit of an anchor, kept us focused, stopped us from being our unusual insane selves,” said Varty.

Herring added, “He made sure that we managed our time pretty well; made sure we didn’t focus too much on building the bridge, rather than writing the report.”

“He had experience with the programs,” said Nash, “and going to the bridge consecutive years in a row.”

The praises were mutual.

“They did a lot of the research and applied a lot of the skills they learned from past classes to make this project work,” said Bell.

The students plan on using some of the things they learned in future careers in welding and computer sciences. For the three seniors, it’s a year of hard work, and a great way to end their time in high school.