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Cover of the Spring 2010 issue




Tight-knit steel bridge team aims for the top

UW-Madison Steel Bridge Team

UW-Madison Steel Bridge Team view larger image

Nearly as long as a football field, the expansive Engineering Centers Building atrium offers ample space for many university events and expositions held throughout the year.

On spring Saturdays, it also serves as a training ground for a unique athletic endeavor that marries basic civil engineering with agility, speed, precision — and of course, teamwork.

The challenge? Build a strong steel bridge across a pretend river using hundreds of parts and pieces set up in delivery “yards” on either end. Time is of the essence, as is accuracy. Construction team members — and the bridge itself — must hold up well under pressure.

In 2010, there’s an added layer of complexity — one that members of the UW-Madison Steel Bridge Team have imposed upon themselves. “If we‘re going to do it, we’re going to go all the way. We’re going to try to win nationals,” says civil and environmental engineering student Tyler Hoehn, who co-chairs the team with fellow students Ed Sippel and Edson Rosenberg.

Team members are hungry for a national championship (nationals are May 28-29 at Purdue University), having hovered among the nation’s best steel bridge builders for a decade. The team has earned second-, third-, fourth-, sixth- and 12th-place finishes in six of the last seven years.

An offshoot of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Steel Bridge Team generally boasts a couple of dozen members. About five students make up the competition construction team, while other members help shape the bridge design, spearhead fund-raising efforts (the team has many sponsors), fabricate key parts, mentor new members, or serve as crew for the construction team.

Bridge design begins in September when major competition sponsors ASCE and the American Institute of Steel Construction release rules for the upcoming competition. For a week during the university winter break, the students work with professional welders and machinists, whom Waunakee, Wisconsinbased Endres Manufacturing Co. supplies to help fabricate major portions of the bridge.

Then there are the spring-semester construction practices, which are a mixture of silly and serious. “Even if they‘re not the people doing the run, there’ll be a couple of people standing around, helping take the bridge apart in between,” says Sippel. “And it gets to be a lot of fun, just joking around, being together for a while, taking a break from homework.”

And, says Hoehn, membership on the Steel Bridge Team is a good time with a reasonable time commitment: “I haven’t had a sleepless night yet,” he says.

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