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By Bryan Hay

Lafayette’s steel bridge team will be defending its national title this year backed by its first corporate sponsorship.

The Harman Group, a structural engineering firm with offices in Philadelphia and New York, donated $10,000 that will be used for materials, shop supplies, and travel expenses.

Lafayette’s team has already qualified for this year’s national competition by winning the Mid-Atlantic Steel Bridge Regional Competition at University of Pittsburgh–Johnstown April 12. This year, 162 engineering schools participated in one of 17 regional competitions, held throughout the U.S. The regional victory marked the 13th time Lafayette has qualified for the national competition since 2005.

Lafayette will join a field of 41 other engineering schools that qualified for the 2019 National Finals at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale May 31–June 1.

Update: June 6, 2019

  • Lafayette won the national competition for the second year in a row.

The bottom portion of Lafayette's steel bridge


“It’s an exercise in structural engineering, and I’m a structural engineer,” responded D. Kirk Harman ’77, co-founder, president and managing principal of The Harman Group, when asked what inspired the generous gift. “This competition is an exercise in structural problem-solving.  It gives the students exposure to breaking down a project into the integral parts and solving each challenge while working together in a team environment.”

The Harman Group is structural engineer for Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center and the McCartney Street housing project. “We are proud to give back to the students,” said Harman, who got a tour of the steel bridge last year as students worked on it in the lab.

Rebecca Cook ’20 and Kari Schultheis ’19 work on the steel bridge.

Rebecca Cook ’20 and Kari Schultheis ’19 work on the steel bridge.

“The team is thrilled by the generous gift from Mr. Harman because it will help us to make better bridges,” said Steve Kurtz, team adviser and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“It will enable us to improve the quality of materials that we use, as well as enhance the tools and equipment that we need in order to do the best quality steel fabrication that is possible,” he said.

This year’s steel bridge team members, all civil engineering majors, are JoAnna Ast ’19, Zack Coleman ’19, Rebecca Cook ’20, Drew Harmon ’20, Kyle Rafferty ’19, and Kari Schultheis ’19.

JoAnna Ast '19 does grinding on the bridge.

JoAnna Ast ’19 does grinding on the bridge.

Kurtz says a repeat of last year’s performance at the nationals will be tough to achieve but this year’s team is up to the challenge.

After 10 years of inching ever closer to a national title, Lafayette’s nine-member steel bridge team beat out 44 others to claim first place in the 2018 National Student Steel Bridge Competition at University of Illinois. The 2018 team knocked out high-performing teams from California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo, Montreal’s École de Technologie Supérieure, University of California Berkeley, and Shanghai’s Tongji University.

Teams are tasked to design and fabricate a bridge that will support a 2,500-pound load over a span of 20 feet. Bridges are fabricated in sections and assembled during timed construction within the competition. The team’s score is determined by an equation that considers the bridge weight, stiffness, and speed of construction.  A winning bridge is one that is very light, very stiff, and can be rapidly constructed.

Sponsored by American Institute of Steel Construction and American Society of Civil Engineers, the national bridge competition has been held annually since 1992 and is considered the premier civil engineering student competition in the United States.

Categorized in: Academic News, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering, Featured News, News and Features, Students
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