U.S. Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit Providence Hosts Bridge Building Competition

25 pre-engineering students from MPHS worked with Coast Guard engineers to design and build bridges from popsicle sticks and subsequently test them

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Teamwork is an important component of the bridge building competition.

High school students from Providence’s Mt. Pleasant High School (MPHS) had a unique opportunity to develop STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills in a popsicle stick bridge building competition sponsored by the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Narragansett Bay Post. The 25 participating students are part of a pre-engineering cohort at MPHS and hope to successfully pursue a STEM-related degree or job after graduation.

The bridge building competition, held annually for more 20 years with elementary and middle school students, was held for the first time this year with high school students on April 28 at the Coast Guard’s civil engineering office in Warwick.

The competition is designed to promote the study and application of STEM fundamentals through the Coast Guard’s Partnership in Education Program and to help local students develop “hands on” learning through bridge construction and testing by working with U.S. Coast Guard engineers.

First District Commanding Officer Michael Roschel tests a bridge to see how much weight it can hold. This bridge won first place for strength ratio as it sustained 160 pounds.

First District Commanding Officer Michael Roschel tests a bridge to see how much weight it can hold. This bridge won first place for strength ratio as it sustained 160 pounds.

In the Academy’s Robotics on the Water (AROW) event, another competition held earlier this year, teams of ninth-grade pre-engineering students at three Providence high schools worked with a cadet mentor and a senior engineering mentor from the Coast Guard’s Warwick office to build remote-controlled boats to perform simulated Coast Guard missions. The boats then competed against each other in a pool specially constructed for the event to see how many missions could be completed in a short timeframe.

Domenic Regnante finishes his group’s bridge.

Domenic Regnante finishes his group’s bridge.

“Our partnership with the Coast Guard civil engineering unit this year has greatly enhanced the students’ experience by providing them with real-world applications to classroom engineering concepts,” said Wendy Valente, mathematics and pre-engineering teacher at Mt. Pleasant High School. “The bridge building competition focused on structural design, assembly methods and teamwork. As with the AROW competition, teamwork and planning were key learning objectives.”

Students worked quietly in teams seated at tables covered by blueprints suggesting bridge designs. Each team was mentored by engineers from the civil engineering unit. At the end of the construction phase, each bridge was tested to see how much weight it could hold until the bridge collapsed.

The winning teams were determined by the total amount of weight held divided by the weight of the bridge. The first-place winner, Team Win, included Anjel Batista, Justin Carvallo, and Louis Orellana, whose bridge held 160 pounds. The second-place Spring Bridge team of Angelo Cazzarro, Jada Harrison and Kleber Parades built a bridge that held 114 pounds.

“The Coast Guard’s CEU Providence Bridge Building Competition is an engineering-oriented activity that exposes students to the opportunities available within the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This one-day competition is designed to demonstrate that engineering can be thrilling and to inspire young students to consider STEM careers in the future,” said Lt. Lars Tormey of the Coast Guard’s civil engineering unit in Warwick.