Strength in competition

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Kyle Buchheit and Jared Schoen, Oak Ridge High School students, were recognized for their accomplishments in a bridge building contest sponsored by the Missouri Department of Transportation held recently to encourage future engineers.

Buchheit modeled his bridge after traditional truss designs. It ranked fourth in the competition, with an efficiency of 55.43 percent.

Efficiency is calculated by dividing the bridge's weight by how great a load it could carry. The 17-year-old, who plans to pursue engineering at University of Missouri-Rolla, spent three eight-hour days working on it.

"My dad helped me glue it all together," he said.

Students received 20 pieces of balsa wood, a spool of thread and a bottle of glue to construct the bridge. Sand was used for testing how much weight the bridges could support.

First- through fourth-place winners received savings bonds from area banks. First- to third- place winners were students from Kennett and Poplar Bluff.

Schoen's bridge was recognized for its creative design, a selection made by MoDOT employees prior to the competition.

"I made it like a football so when the top was pushed down [by vehicles crossing it] the distribution would go outwards toward the edges," said Schoen. His bridge ranked sixth in the overall competition.

His dad, Bruce Schoen, who works in construction, helped quite a bit. Schoen also plans to become an engineer.

TRAC, a national organization, promotes the transportation and civil engineering fields to students. Each MoDOT district has a TRAC team of employees who visits area schools to talk about transportation and civil engineering and tells students what MoDOT engineers do.

The competition was open to schools in all 14 counties of the MoDOT Southeast district. Nine schools including Oak Ridge, Jackson and Sikeston represented the 34 students competing.

University scholarships

"We are very thankful to everyone who helped with the event," said traffic engineer Craig Compas. "We are especially grateful to the universities who offered scholarship opportunities. The best benefit of the competition is giving future engineers a little help with their education."

MoDOT's TRAC team partnered with three universities to offer scholarship opportunities for students in the competition. The University of Missouri-Rolla and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale each offered $1,000 engineering scholarships and Southeast Missouri State University offered a $300 pre-engineering scholarship for students in the competition.

"I taught at Oran for five years and had my students build bridges there," said Oak Ridge science teacher Mark Gihring. "When I discovered the scholarship opportunity for junior and senior students I didn't want them to miss the chance. Nine of the 13 students in my class were there on Saturday morning entering their bridges. I was pleased with their work."

The Oak Ridge physics class researched programs on the Internet using computer technology to make model bridges and test them.

"They used ideas, expanded on them and came up with their own," Gihring said. "They figured out what designs would work."

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