National steel bridge competition comes to Illinois

7/13/2018 11:16:31 AM

Above: the CEE at Illinois construction team sets up their bridge across a span of blue plastic sheeting, representing a river, in the speed round.


More than 40 student teams from universities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and China arrived on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus in May to compete in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition (NSSBC). This is the first time the national competition has been hosted by Illinois since the event’s inception.

The two-day competition, which took place May 25-26, 2018, was the culmination of a series of regional competitions – in which teams were tasked with building a bridge based on guidelines provided by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) – that narrowed the teams from 230 to 42 finalists. Top scorers in those contests brought their bridges to Illinois for a chance at taking home national honors and bragging rights.

Jim LaFave
Jim LaFave
“For our Illinois CEE steel bridge team to competitively participate for the third year in a row in nationals, while at the same time helping to host the national competition, is a tribute to their talent, spirit and hard work,” said professor and faculty adviser Jim LaFave.

The competition was broken into a series of events over the two-day period. The first day, teams assembled their bridges on Bardeen Quad while judges awarded points based on the aesthetics of each team’s bridge and the poster accompanying their project. The following day was action-packed, as teams competed in the Armory to build their bridges in the fastest time and earn high marks in various scoring categories.

Ultimately, the judges – which included CEE alumni Nancy Gavlin (BS 76), recently retired Director of Education at AISC, and Christina Harber (BS 02), AISC’s new Director of Education – awarded honors to the top three teams in each of six categories (Construction Speed, Lightness, Display, Stiffness, Economy and Efficiency) as well as the top three overall winners. Lafayette College was the competition’s overall winner, followed by California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo in second place, and École de technologie supérieure taking third.

“The months of hard work by our Illinois CEE NSSBC planning team resulted in an exciting two-day competition that was both professional in organization and collegial in spirit,” LaFave said. “We were delighted to hear from so many of the NSSBC competitors, judges, sponsors and other attendees that the competition was very well run, our volunteers were friendly and helpful, and everyone had a great time.”

The NSSBC is sponsored by AISC and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The first national steel bridge competition was held in 1992 at Michigan State University and in the years since has become a popular competition for civil engineering students. The next NSSBC will be held at University of Texas at El Paso, May 26-27, 2019.

A drone captures an image of teams setting up for display judging in Bardeen Quad.
A drone captures an image of teams setting up for display judging in Bardeen Quad.