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No Bridge Too Far: Judging the AISC Student Steel Bridge Virtual Competition at SDSU

Banner Associates, Inc. | Apr 15, 2021

When COVID restrictions pushed a normally in-person student competition to the virtual stage, members of the Banner engineering team stepped up to help. For the last few decades, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) has hosted an annual Student Steel Bridge Competition (SSBC). The goals of the SSBC are fairly straightforward: they encourage students, working in groups, to apply the concepts they’ve learned in class to design, construct, and test a bridge made of steel. The student teams would usually bring their finished bridges to regional events for judges to review, but limitations on social gatherings posed an issue. Rather than consider the competition a bridge too far during pandemic restrictions, AISC adapted by asking schools to compete virtually from their own campuses by enlisting local engineering professionals as judges.  

Tevis Holzer, an engineer in our Structural group, was asked to be the Head Judge for the South Dakota State University (SDSU) entry. Tevis was joined by fellow Banner engineering team members Deidre Beck and Matthew Buenger, as well as Brian Ruppelt from CDI. Together, this team of judges was responsible for verifying the students adhered to the safety requirements and competition rules in the 56-page AISC competition rulebook and, of course, scoring the students’ work. This meant checking the student team’s safety measures, designs, construction time, processes, methods, materials, and even the simulated bridge installation area, complete with marked-off sections that represented staging yards, construction zones, and a river.  

Once the judges validated each of these requirements, they turned their attention to official evaluation of the student team’s work. The bridge was loaded with 2,500 pounds of weight while Tevis, Deidre, Matthew, and Brian watched for deflection, or changes in the structure to accommodate the load. The primary criteria included the weight of the bridge itself, overall assembly time, integrity under lateral and vertical loads, and aesthetics.  

Ultimately, the work from the judges and students alike complied with the AISC requirements for a successful entry to the 2021 SSBC virtual competition. We are excited this long-standing competition could overcome the distancing challenges to keep students engaged and connected, and proud to have members of the Banner team volunteer their time to help out. We wish the best of luck to all the competitors!