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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Students Try Engineering Sturdy Bridges

Models will be put to the test Saturday, March 12.

Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press, 3-9-2016

On their home turf, student engineers from Minnesota State University, Mankato aim to win a another invite to a national bridge-building contest.

The university is hosting the American Society of Civil Engineers annual Midwest Student Conference today through Saturday. The conference culminates with the regional Steel Bridge Competition, co-sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

Eleven university teams will assemble model steel bridges, then place 2,500 pounds of steel on their bridge and hope it can bear the load. If the bridge doesn’t collapse, it advances into a second round of evaluations.

Minnesota State Mankato took second in the 2014 regional competition in Wisconsin and earned a trip to Ohio to compete at nationals. A Minnesota State Mankato team also competed last year but didn’t advance.

Eighteen civil engineering students comprise this year’s Minnesota State Mankato team.

In addition to a top regional finish, Minnesota State Mankato team member Amy Nguyen said the local students are hoping a crowd of community members will come out to cheer them on and learn about bridge engineering.

Nguyen said they started designing their model steel bridge in the fall. Each year the contest has a different set of specifications, including height and length. Prefabrication followed and now they’re practicing speedily assembling their bridge.

Each team’s first challenge Saturday morning will be to assemble their bridge in 30 minutes or fewer. If they exceed the time goal, they are docked points.

The most nerve-racking part of the contest, Nguyen said, is the 2,500-pound load test. Teams don’t test their bridges before competition, out of fear it will weaken their structure before the real test, the Minnesota State Mankato junior said. She’s seen several teams’ bridges collapse.

The enduring teams are judged on four additional factors: their bridge’s weight, the visual appeal of their bridge and the display they create about their bridge design, amount of vertical deflection (if the load test caused bridge deformities) and cost efficiency (theoretical cost calculated based on weight and deflection).

Nguyen is helping organize and promote the engineering society conference, which was last held at Minnesota State Mankato in 2007.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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