The University of Florida’s Eckhoff Steel Bridge team has done it again.
The team placed first in the American Institute of Steel Construction’s (AISC) Student Steel Bridge National Competition for the second year in a row. The competition was hosted by Virginia Tech on May 27 and 28 with more than 140 participating schools internationally.
“The team, including myself, didn’t fully know what to expect as this was my first in-person Nationals. We knew we had a competitive bridge but there are many variables and some luck involved in finishing in the top three,” said Taylor Rawlinson, Ph.D., a research assistant scientist in the Department of Civil & Coastal Engineering and the faculty advisor for the group. “The team put in a lot of time between regionals and nationals to improve their structural stiffness and construction time, and I’m proud of their commitment and effort.”
This was the first time since 2019 that schools were able to compete in-person in the national competition. In 2020, the competition was canceled due to COVID-19, and last year’s competition was held virtually across the participating institutions’ campuses. This year’s challenge was for students to design, fabricate and construct a one-tenth scale steel bridge that mimics a real-life design and construction project.
Fletcher D’Arcy, a graduating civil engineering senior and the team’s project manager, said that the new, inexperienced yet enthusiastic members contributed to the group’s success through countless hours of trial and error and collaboration. The spring graduate added, “It’s reflected to me what my priorities as a designer are and what they should be—and the modes of thinking required to be successful in a high-stress environment, which is like an engineering firm.”
D’Arcy worked with Joseph Brock Sullivan, a civil engineering senior and the build team manager, to assemble over 25 pieces with more than 50 bolts in under five minutes. The group placed first in economy, which was construction speed multiplied by the number of builders. The team placed third in construction speed and fourth in efficiency, which includes stiffness and weight. The team also won the Frank J. Hatfield Ingenuity Award for the unique bridge construction as the only school to use two builders in the construction of the bridge with most other schools utilizing at least three or up to six builders.
“Being on a design team such as Steel Bridge has provided me with an incredible opportunity to utilize the skills I have learned in my courses, constantly learn more about the techniques and principles used in my industry, gain considerable leadership experience, bolster my resume, and meet a bunch of great people who enjoy the same things as me,” Sullivan said.
This is the team’s fourth national championship since its inception. The first win occurred in 1997, the following two wins were 2015 and 2021.
This year’s win has the newest members excited for next year’s competition. Donald Stowell-Moore, a civil engineering junior, said that he’d recommend anyone interested in joining the group to reach out.
“This win has meant so much. I remember walking on stage with the rest of the team and feeling exuberated,” he said. “This was my first year on the team, and next year I will be leading the fabrication portion of the bridge. I really feel pride in the fact that I can contribute to a team with the knowledge that I am a Gator and always will be.”
Other national team members include Taylor Sadhi, a civil engineering senior, Anthony Ortegon Perez, a civil engineering junior, and Josh Lucero, a civil engineering sophomore. Many of this group will be returning to next year’s competition. As they celebrate this year’s win, they anticipate competing next year.
“We look forward to future competitions as we continue to innovate as a team and develop strong Gator Engineers who can blend the theoretical and practical aspects of civil engineering. We have a strong core coming back next year, and I’m excited about the future of the Eckhoff Steel Bridge program,” Dr. Rawlinson added.
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