• Grant Iwamoto (left) and Maria Tou, co-captain of the MIT Steel Bridge team, constructed the bridge during the regional competition at MIT.

    Photo: Rudolph Photography

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  • The MIT Steel Bridge team placed first in four categories — display, lightness, efficiency and economy — and won first place overall. Organizers of the event, which was held at MIT, were graduate students Leonidia Garbis (far left) and Matthew Pires (fourth from right).

    Photo: Rudolph Photography

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MIT Steel Bridge team wins first place in regional contest

Though delayed by the Boston-area lockdown, the competition was held at MIT on April 20


The MIT Steel Bridge team, sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), won first place at the New England regional steel bridge competition held on the MIT campus on April 20. Université Laval placed second, followed by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in third place.

The competition, which was hosted by CEE, was scheduled to begin early Saturday morning, but was delayed by the lockdown in the Boston area that followed the shooting death of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier and the Boston marathon bombings.

Although the annual conference of the regional student chapters of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) scheduled for Friday evening had to be canceled, the event organizers — M.Eng. students Leonidia Garbis ’12 and Matthew Pires ’10 and CEE administrative officer Patricia Dixon — refused to give up on the competition. In the end, they were able to hold the event on Saturday with a delayed start time of 2 p.m.

Some of the teams arrived at area hotels outside the city Friday afternoon, while others waited for word Saturday morning before driving to Boston. Nine of the 13 visiting teams that had registered for the event were on hand Saturday in Johnson Athletic Center. The competition lasted until 8:30 p.m. and winners were announced an hour later.

“Coordination was key,” said Pires, who was a steel bridge team member as an undergraduate. “Pat handled food, Leoni communicated with the teams, and I worked with MIT Facilities for hours Friday before and after the lockdown in Boston was lifted.”

Garbis, also a steel bridge team member during her undergraduate years, credited the regional teams’ courage and flexibility. “It was truly amazing to see the support from the other schools and everyone's willingness to help in hopes of seeing the competition happen,” she said. “Our region really did a good job coming together.”

“I was truly impressed and inspired by the leadership shown by Leoni and Matt in pulling this event together and by the tremendous spirit and enthusiasm of our team,” said Professor Andrew Whittle, department head of CEE. “They did a wonderful job in representing MIT — with an outstanding bridge design and tremendous coordination in the construction time trial.”

An important win for the MIT team

The MIT team, now in its seventh year, also worked hard for many months in preparation for the competition. But as team co-captain Nicky Soane said, the win was never a sure bet.

“Though our team triumphed and won first place in the regional competition, it was never a guarantee,” said Soane, a senior who coordinated the team effort with co-captain Maria Tou, a junior. “That’s why we spent months designing and fabricating a bridge, followed by orchestrating and perfecting its construction sequence in preparation for the regional competition.”

For the competition, each team creates an original design for an approximately 20-foot bridge that can be constructed quickly, usually in less than 10 minutes. Bridges are created for a hypothetical site whose requirements change each year. Teams are judged on a combination of elements, including bridge design and lightness, its ability to withstand a 2,500-pound load without deflecting, and team construction speed.

The annual competition is sponsored by the ASCE and the American Institute of Steel Construction. The top teams at the regional competitions will compete in the national competition May 31-June 1 at the University of Washington in Seattle. The MIT team has placed in the top two teams at regionals in each of the seven years it has competed. Last year the team took second place in the national competition.

In addition to Garbis, Pires, Soane and Tou, members of the 2013 team are seniors Grant Iwamoto and Alexis Ludena; juniors Christine Labaza, Alex McCarthy and Sharone Small; freshman Dagin Faulkner; and Trevor Bertin and Congyi Qian, M.Eng. students.

Professor Jerome Connor and doctoral candidate Pierre Ghisbain are mentors and advisors to the team, CEE technical instructor Stephen Rudolph is the team’s technical advisor, and Jimmy Duffy and Jimmy O’Donnell (known fondly as the two Jimmies) of Boston Bridge Services, Inc. volunteer their time to help the students fabricate the bridge pieces.


Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships, Civil and environmental engineering, Contests and academic competitions, Student life, Students

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