High school students build bridges, learn from college engineers

Feb 13, 2020


UMass Dartmouth engineers are building bridges with their high school peers both literally and figuratively.

On February 11, the UMass Dartmouth Engineers Without Borders student group invited dozens of high school students from South Coast vocational high schools to a bridge building competition.

Students had spent about a month before the competition building wooden bridges based on specifications and requirements imposed by the competition’s judges.

Their bridges had to be under 24 inches in length, eight inches in height, and under six inches in width, and students were limited to using only balsa wood and wood glue.

During the February 11 competition day, judges first weighed and examined each bridge to ensure they met the design specifications. Then it was time to put the designs to the test. Volunteers stacked reams of printer paper with an average weight of 20 pounds each on top of the bridges.

While many bridges failed at around eight or ten reams, Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School’s John Marques, Ernie Vardo, and Shaun Souza withstood the load of 20 reams of paper.

“We wanted to keep it small,” Marques said.

They knew their bridge would likely stand up well, but had no idea it would stand up so well.

“I didn’t think they’d need to get more paper,” Marques added.

The project not only helped students learn how to build the actual bridges, but also helped connect high school students with their college peers. The College of Engineering had launched an outreach initiative with high schools recently, and had invited its professors to host lectures for high school students on topics like computer security. 

“We had already started to collaborate with students, and we thought it’d be good for us to bring the high school students together for a collegial competition,” said Associate Dean of Engineering Ray Laoulache.