Civil Engineering Students Victorious Again

By Nadia M. Whitehead

UTEP News Service

For the third year in a row, a group of civil engineering students is headed to the National Steel Bridge Competition.

Beating out other institutions like The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico, members of The University of Texas at El Paso’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) placed third in the annual Texas-Mexico Regional Steel Bridge Competition on Saturday, Jan. 19.Ulysses Jacquez (center), captain of UTEP’s steel bridge team, and his teammates work on constructing a steel bridge as quickly as possible during the 2013 Texas-Mexico Regional Steel Bridge Competition. Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News ServiceUlysses Jacquez (center), captain of UTEP’s steel bridge team, and his teammates work on constructing a steel bridge as quickly as possible during the 2013 Texas-Mexico Regional Steel Bridge Competition. Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News Service

“I am very proud of our students who competed,” said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. “They were the reigning champs, so the other schools were gunning for them. UTEP will now get a chance to compete for the national crown.”

Since August students in ASCE had been hard at work – meeting weekly to plan, design and construct a miniature steel bridge. Even at one-tenth the size of a full-scale bridge, the experience was quite comparable to the real thing.

“Participating students apply engineering principles and theory and gain practical experience in structural design, fabrication processes, construction planning, organization, project management, and teamwork,” the competition summary states. “Standards for strength, durability, constructability, usability, functionality, and safety reflect the volumes of requirements that govern the design and construction of full-scale bridges.”

Students’ bridges must be able to withstand 2,500 pounds and show the least deflection, or dip, when the weight is applied. Bridges were also judged on lightness, on-site construction speed, display, efficiency and economy.

The final score was given as the price that the bridge would cost to build in real life – meaning that the team with the lowest price tag wins.

This year, the UTEP team’s bridge was valued at a little over $5 million.

“I think this has prepared me [for the workforce] by making me realize that not everything always comes out as planed,” said Ulysses Jacquez, a senior in civil engineering and captain of the UTEP team. “And you have to be able to have some leeway. For instance, this year we applied too much heat to the steel while we were welding and it caused complications to our design – that’s something that happened that we definitely did not foresee.”

Jacquez has been participating in the competition for three years and says that each year is a challenge because the rules change. The team also has to raise a few thousand dollars each time to create the bridge.

Nevertheless, he loves doing it.

“Structural engineering is my passion. I love making stuff in the machine shop and working with my hands,” he said.

Along with gaining a spot in the national competition, UTEP hosted the regional competition for the first time in many years.

“It was a new unanimous opinion of long-time participants from industry that this was the best-run competition in memory,” Schoephoerster said. “Kudos to Dr. Cesar Carrasco, Dr. Shane Walker and the students who worked so hard to show what UTEP faculty and students can do.”

The 2013 National Steel Bridge Competition will be hosted May 31 to June 1 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Other institutions expected to participate are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.