Building bridges; budding careers

April 18, 2006

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. — Students in grades 4-12 are giving professional civil engineers a run for their money as they design and test bridges for the Jackson County West Point Bridge Design Contest, presented by 4-H Technology Extension at Oregon State University's Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.

The contest ran nationally through March and is continuing in Jackson County through June 5. It uses a free interactive software design program, similar to the professional engineering program Auto Cad, but much simpler and easier to use. The software can be downloaded from the internet for use on computers with Windows 95 or newer. Computers with the program already installed are also available for use in the Jackson County Extension office during regular office hours.

The software has two main aspects, said Erin Taylor, an OSU 4-H technology extension faculty member. There is a page set-up for designing and drawing, and a page dedicated to testing the design, which also shows the forces working on the design.

"The goal is to move a cartoon semi-truck over a bridge without the bridge failing under the weight of the truck," Taylor said. "If the truck makes it across then you have to go back and see if you can redesign your bridge for less money. If you don't make it across, then you have to go back and figure out how to make your bridge stronger and more stable."

OSU's 4-H Technology Extension program is funded by a grant from the Engineering and Technology Industry Council. The program provides non-formal education for students to gain technology skills, increases awareness of science and technology careers and advances youths business skills. The program is designed as a resource for teachers to supplement their regular curriculum, and Taylor said she already has two schools using the bridge design software in their classrooms and participating in the contest.

Taylor is available to give classroom talks about the bridge design contest and 4-H Technology Extension, and to help set up and run the software.

"The contest doesn't have to be about winning or following the rules," she said. "This is an opportunity for students to learn more about engineering. Even if their bridge is more expensive than other designs they're still learning something about what it really means to be an engineer and what is involved in designing a bridge. There's a lot of problem-solving and modeling that goes into this."

For more information about the bridge design contest, or 4-H Technology Extension at OSU's Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center visit:

Author: Aimee Lyn Brown
Source: Erin Taylor