U of L heads to national bridge-building competition with help from ECTC

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By Kelly Cantrall

From building a bridge, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and the University of Louisville also forged a partnership.


U of L students are headed to the 2013 National Student Steel Bridge Competition at the University of Washington on May 31 after winning a regional competition with the help of students and faculty at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.

The competition, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Institute of Steel Construction, asks students to construct a scale model steel bridge. Students must factor in a variety of requirements and work to make it the most efficient bridge possible.

Students must design and pay for the fabrication of all pieces required to build the bridge. Competing schools often seek out professional companies to perform welding and machining needed to create the pieces, said Sam Hornback, a civil engineering graduate student at U of L.

But the U of L students weren’t sure where they could come up with the money required to hire professionals. Hornback’s mother, an employee at ECTC, suggested they bring the project to the welding and computerized manufacturing and machining programs at the college.

Grant Logsdon, a professor in the machining program, was hesitant at first. He and Joey Reed, a welding instructor, wanted to ensure that there would be students willing to help with the project before they agreed.

“My first thought was fear,” Logsdon said, laughing.

But several ECTC students were willing to take on the task. Welding student Andrew Holland was looking for a different challenge. Instead of welding for practice, he enjoys “when you actually get to do something practical.”

The two sets of students began to work together early in the semester, and they each quickly began to learn from the others.

The U of L students “learned how to think like fabricators instead of engineers,” Hornback said. U of L student Brooks Benton agreed.

“It was just a great experience, just eye-opening for us,” Benton said.

For the ECTC students and faculty, instead of working on individual pieces, working with the U of L students let them see the project as a whole, which was very unusual, Logsdon said.

The U of L students, accompanied by several people from ECTC, took the bridge April 4 to a regional competition at Cleveland State University. Reed said the Louisville team was hoping for third place because of competition from historically successful schools such as the University of Akron in Ohio.

They placed first instead, the first time the school won the competition. The Louisville team has competed for four years, Benton said.

“In four years, we’ve come from nothing to first place,” he said.

Hornback said the unusual method of asking fellow students to do the welding and machining was noticed by other schools.

“We caught some attention up there,” he said.

Holland, who attended the regional competition, said the other competing teams were surprised to learn learn the role he played in the creation of the bridge.

“They were pretty confused,” he said. “They were like, ‘You did what?’”

Now the two schools are tweaking their creation to prepare it for the national competition. They compete against more than 40 schools, including prestigious engineering schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Louisville students again will be accompanied by several ECTC students and faculty. ECTC is planning to work with next year’s U of L team, Reed said.

“We’re going to try to keep everything going,” he said.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.