Michigan students take top honors at national bridge event

Contact: Dan Weingarten, MDOT Office of Communications,
Agency: Transportation

Fast facts:
- The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) had its 16th Annual TRAC Bridge Challenge competition Tuesday in Franklin, Tenn.
- Nine of the 18 teams selected to participate in the event - where miniature bridges built from balsa wood, glue and string are tested for strength and design - were from Michigan.
- Teams from around Michigan took seven of the top nine places in the national competition.

May 24, 2018 -- Michigan middle and high school students dominated a national bridge-building competition event in Tennessee this week as teams from around the state took seven of the top nine places.

The Michigan students were facing off against other budding engineers from around the U.S. at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) 16th Annual TRAC Bridge Challenge competition Tuesday in Franklin, Tenn. The teams spend months building miniature bridges using balsa wood, glue and string, which are then tested for strength and design. Teams also make detailed presentations about their bridges before a panel of judges.

Eighteen teams competed this year, selected from the 29 states across the country that participate. Besides Michigan, other teams hailed from Virginia, Mississippi, Florida, New Mexico, California, and Maryland. Team members were all involved in one of AASHTO's educational outreach programs: TRAC (Transportation and Civil Engineering) for high school students, and RIDES (Roadways In Developing Elementary Students). The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has been offering the TRAC program to schools in Michigan since 2004.

The competition's goal is to develop a bridge that will carry as much weight as possible while weighing as little as possible. Students compete in separate age categories: grades 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12. Michigan teams took first place honors in all three age categories and secured seven of the nine top spots.

"Seeing a generation of young women and men so engaged and enthusiastic about engineering gives me hope for the future," said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. "Thanks to Gov. Rick Snyder's focus on talent, we expect even more success as the TRAC program grows."

Going into this week's competition, Michigan teams had already excelled, said Julie VanPortfliet, who manages the TRAC program for MDOT. Out of the 18 national slots available, nine went to Michigan teams.

''It was a great day for MDOT,'' VanPortfliet said. ''The students from across Michigan not only made us proud of our commitment to support science, technology, engineering and math education, but they had us in awe as they presented what they learned while preparing for the competition.''

TRAC is a hands-on education program designed for integration into science, math and social science classes with the goal of encouraging kids to pursue engineering and other science-related fields. The bridge challenge is part of MDOT's TRAC program curriculum. More information is available at www.michigan.gov/mdot-trac.

Another facet of TRAC is its internship program, which offers 20 or so students statewide an opportunity to work for MDOT during the summer. VanPortfliet said many students have found hands-on, real-world learning was the key to their future. 

''I've seen the tremendous difference the TRAC program can make for students,'' VanPortfliet said. ''Many kids have gone through TRAC and gained the confidence that they needed to go on to success in college and careers.''

With a projected shortage of engineers in the U.S. workforce over the next 10 years, VanPortfliet said this program can help prepare students for key roles throughout MDOT, Michigan, and the entire country in the future.

2018 Annual TRAC Bridge Challenge winners

11-12th Grade Division
First place: Negaunee High School – Bridge Builders, Negaunee, Michigan
Second place: LISD Tech Center – Land Linkers, Adrian, Michigan
Third place: Schoolcraft High School – The Internationals, Schoolcraft, Michigan

9-10th Grade Division
First place: Kat Homeschool – Millennium A.R.K. Designers, Portage, Michigan
Second place: Henrico High School – Setu Builders, Henrico, Virginia
Third place: Pembrook Pines School – Jags Team B, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

7-8th Grade Division
First place: Meads Mill Middle School – Trussworthy, Northville, Michigan
Second place: Portage Central Middle School – CNM, Portage, Michigan 
Third place: Portage Central Middle School – Bridge-it, Portage, Michigan

Meads Mills Middle School's Trussworthy team members accept award

Meads Mills Middle School's Trussworthy team members (L-R) Rohan Dhulipalla,
Arthur Zhao, and Matthew Wang accept their first-place award in the 7-8th grade division at the 16th Annual TRAC Bridge Challenge in Tennessee this week. The Northville, Mich., team's advisor is Diane Xu. (MDOT photo)