We must address our country’s need for STEM graduates to fuel our innovation economy. Numerous economic forecasts in 2012 pointed to a need to produce approximately one million more college graduates in STEM fields over the next decade 1. While retention of students who enter college as STEM majors will be critical, it is also important to begin to attract students to STEM fields before they enter college. At the Appalachian Transportation Institute, we are dedicated to outreach efforts that focus on attracting K-12 students to STEM careers, specifically in the field of transportation.
West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest
The Appalachian Transportation Institute serves as a co-sponsor of the West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest. This annual contest promotes STEM education and career exploration by providing middle school and high school students with a realistic, hands-on introduction to civil engineering.
The contest is made up of two rounds, which students have the option of entering in teams of one or two. The first is a Qualifying Round that runs from the beginning of the school year until the end of March. To officially enter this round, students must submit a bridge design using free software that is provided on the contest website, with the objective of designing the lowest cost bridge that holds a required load. Approximately the top 25 teams with the lowest cost are then invited to the Final Round in May, where they compete in two divisions: 1. bridge design (including one endurance round and one speed round) and 2. balsa bridge build. Prior to the event, finalists are mailed materials to construct a balsa bridge, which they are required to bring to the Final Round to be load tested to see which team has the highest strength-to-weight ratio.
In 2018, 262 teams entered from 40 different West Virginia schools and 23 different West Virginia counties entered the Qualifying Round.