UTEP Student Engineers to Defend ‘Steel Bridge’ Title in Houston

A hard-working group of engineering students from The University of Texas at El Paso will defend UTEP’s title at the regional AISC-ASCE Steel Bridge Competition Jan. 13-14 at the Pasadena (Texas) Convention Center.

 

The 26-member squad will compete against more than a dozen teams in the Texas-Mexico Region. The top three finishers are expected to be invited to the national competition in May at Clemson University in South Carolina.

The bridges will be judged on their weight, their ability to support 2,500 pounds and the time of on-site construction. Winners earn trophies and a stipend to help pay for the national contest. 

The UTEP team members have worked diligently since August to prepare for the contest through meetings, shop time, practice time and fundraising. The students, who range from freshmen to a doctoral student, often work in shifts from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays during the winter break from classes to prepare for the competition, said team captain David Ledesma, who led the UTEP squad to nationals last year. He shared leadership duties with Sergio Mendez. Both earned their bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering in 2010 and their masters’ in structural engineering from UTEP in December.

“They have shown a lot of dedication,” Ledesma said of the team members.

Among those students preparing for the competition was Ulysses Jaquez, a junior civil engineering major who is one of 14 returning members from last year’s team. He will be the team leader after this month’s competition. He said this year’s bridge was designed to be lighter, but stronger that last year’s 208-pound model.

“It’s getting close to crunch time, but we’re feeling good about it,” he said as numerous machines buzzed, whined and chugged in the background of the machine shop in the basement of the Engineering Building.   

Team adviser W. Shane Walker, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil engineering, called the event “fiercely competitive” and full of innovative designs that give the students a more sophisticated perspective.

“The amount of engineering creativity is amazing,” said Walker, who participated in the contest as a Texas Tech University student in 2001-04. He later complimented Mendez during a visit to the machine shop for a new steel joint that the team fabricated that would strengthen the model and speed up its assembly.

Such competitions are valuable because they give students hands-on opportunities to apply what they learn in their analysis and design classes, said Bob Shaw, P.E., president of Steel Structures Technology Center, Inc., in Michigan. He is credited with starting the contest in 1987 when he was associate director of education for the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). The challenge went national five years later.

“This extends their experience to include some hands-on construction planning and actual construction activity,” he said in an email.

The University of Houston will host the event, which is sponsored by the AISC and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).