New Mexico Tech Bridge Builders Earn Trip To National Event

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., April 7, 2009 – New Mexico Tech civil engineering students earned a third-place award at a regional competition for their steel bridge in only their fourth year of competition.

Steel Bridge Team

Right: Steel Bridge team: Front row, from left are Amiri Alexander, Brent Meins and team advisor Dr. Claudia Wilson. In back, from left are Phil Heid, Jay Herrera, Isaac Simmons and Robert Montoya.

The American Society of Civil Engineers student club attended the 2009 Rocky Mountain Regional Conference in Provo, Utah, on April 2 to 4.

The steel bridge competition is sponsored by ASCE and the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). Teams of college students design, fabricate and assembly a 21-foot-long steel bridge capable of supporting a payload of 2500 pounds.

With their third place finish, the New Mexico Tech team qualifies for the first time for the National Steel Bridge Competition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas May 22-23. The bridge-building team is Brent Meins, Phil Heid, Jay Herrera, Robert Montoya, Isaac Simmons and Amiri Alexander. The faculty advisor for the team was Dr. Claudia Wilson.

“This was only our fourth trip to the regional competition,” Dr. Claudia Dias Wilson said. “The other team advisors were very impressed that we qualified.”


Left: The New Mexico Tech civil engineering students who attended at the ASME regional conference. In front, from left are Naitram Birbahadur, Jay Herrera, Amiri Alexander, Robin Montoya, Robert Montoya, Kelsey McCaslin, Dr. Claudia Wilson, Joe Sullivan, Jason Johntony and Marissa Paiz. In back, from left, are Roosevelt Theodore, Royce Beaudry, Phil Heid, Isaac Simmons, Brent Meins, Hunter Riek, Phil Cheasebro, and James Martin. Not shown: Lindsey Gilbert and Nils Gram.

Last year, the Tech team scored good marks for the strength of their bridge, but did not finish high in the overall scores. The 2008 experience motivated the Tech civil engineering team to improve on last year’s finish, Wilson said.

“This year, it was truly a team effort,” she said. “Everyone participated in the design. They all had input and they all worked from beginning to end. Each team member brought in their ideas on what would work.”

The first place overall was University of Colorado at Denver and the second place was South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. New Mexico Tech also placed in several categories: 1st place in efficiency, 2nd place in stiffness and 3rd place in lightness.

The steel bridge competition served as a portion of the Senior Design Clinic project for most team members.

Tech also fielded a team in the concrete canoe competition for the first time. Unlike the bridge builders, the canoe construction was completely extracurricular.

Concrete Canoe Team

Right: Concrete Canoe Team: In front, from left are Naitram Birbahadur, Phil Cheasebro, Nils Gram, and Jason Johntony. In back row, from left are Hunter Riek, James Martin, team advisor Dr. Claudia Wilson, Kelsey McCaslin, Robin Montoya, Marissa Paiz and Roosevelt Theodore.

Students designed, analyzed, constructed and raced a 20-foot-long concrete canoe. Although strong winds and cold temperatures prevented the students from racing the canoes in the Utah Lake, points were awarded for all other scoring categories: design paper, oral presentation and final product. New Mexico Tech placed 7th overall. The team captains are James Martin and Nils Gram. Other team members are Naitram Birbahadur, Phil Cheasebro, Jason Johntony, Kelsey McCaslin, Marissa Paiz and Robin Montoya. The faculty advisor for the team was Dr. Claudia Wilson.

“The concrete canoe is such a challenging project that just having a canoe is a huge success,” Wilson said. “But they actually had a really, really good canoe, so that’s even more impressive. Had we had a chance to race, we would have performed very well.”

The team used a special composition of concrete, using an aggregate with recycled glass microspheres. Gram said funding was an issue. They ordered the glass microspheres from Canada and the shipping costs kept the Tech students from ordering as much as they really needed.

Gram, who has experience as a carpenter, built the form in which the concrete was poured. He was concerned that they would damage the boat as they removed it from the form.

“We took a lot of precautions,” he said. “We coated the form with plastic and poured motor oil on it. That boat was still glued to the form. Somehow, we got it out and the boat turned out to be really good.”

“We got a lot of compliments from a lot of the competitors,” Gram said. “We put it in the water and paddled it around. I thought it might not withstand the stresses of paddling, but I was amazed. It’s remarkably strong and durable. It’s a functional boat.”

Transportation was another obstacle the Tech team managed quite well. While some canoes barely survived the trip to Utah, Gram built a harness that protected Team Tech’s canoe for the drive.

“We really feel kind of cheated,” Gram said. “We were judged only seventh. We really thought we had a second or third place boat. At the end of the races, the judges look at durability and ours would have held up really well. We felt deprived that we missed the last opportunity to score some points. We were really bummed out.”

Martin said he was disappointed that the weather was uncooperative, but the project was a great experience.

“With more time, we could have done better, but overall, our product was good – and better looking that a lot of the other canoes,” he said. “We can only go up from here. We have a good foundation for next year.”

Lindsey Gilbert presented his paper titled “Flaws in the American Infrastructure” in the Mead Paper competition on sustainability in civil engineering.

Mystery Design was a competition where groups were made up of students from different universities who were required to construct aluminum foil boats to hold steel pellets.

“It’s always a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “New Mexico Tech had a lot of students participating. It’s really an exercise in working together as a team on short notice and producing the best product you can.”

Tech students participating in this competition were Royce Beaudry, Kelsey McCaslin, Robin Montoya, Roosevelt Theodore, Jason Johntony, Amiri Alexander, Lindsey Gilbert, Naitram Birbahadur, Marissa Paiz and Hunter Riek.

“Can-struction” was a community service activity that involved the collection of canned food items by each university and the construction of a landmark structure with the cans. Tech students build a model of the Hoover Dam with their cans. After the competition, the food was donated to a local food bank in Utah.

– NMT –