The challenge made by the UMass Dartmouth student chapter of Engineers Without Border set seems simple – build a balsa wood bridge. And then withstand up to 100 pounds of paper piled on top.
Students from Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical, Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School, and Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School converged on UMass Dartmouth to compete in tests of the bridges they built in their high school classes. Olivia Brochu (’19) of Oxbridge, MA, president of the chapter, said the project aims to challenge vocational students to solve practical problems that help them see the value of an engineering career and to strengthen the connection between the University and local vocational students. “When I was in high school, I didn’t even know engineering was something I could do,” she said. The project was designed to show students some of the “really cool” things they could do.
The UMass Dartmouth students darted from team to team, admiring their work and assigning points for the various elements of the bridges. Each of the ten bridges ended up looking different – some very utilitarian, some elegant with architectural flourishes. But performance is where it really counts – and each was put to the test.
Each bridge in turn was suspended between two tables. Reams of copier paper, each weighting two kilograms, were piled on top. With each team watching breathlessly and counting as each ream was laid gingerly on top, Olivia and co-leader Benjamin Poirier laid each package of paper on top of the bridge. Some bridges collapsed with five or six reams. But it was a team from Greater New Bedford Voc Tech that won the prize – with 30 reams of paper, or 132 pounds, the bridge was still standing. But because they ran out of paper, they will never know how many more reams it might have held.
John Marques, a junior at Greater New Bedford, found the project a good challenge. “It’s an opportunity to learn teamwork and time management,” said the New Bedford resident. Aidan Sylvia from Dartmouth echoed that. “We had three days to get it done,” he said. Riley Darwell, a junior from Dartmouth, said she got good insight into the process, especially in how much work it takes “to perfectly plan something so it is safe for the public.” She plans to attend UMass Dartmouth to learn how to develop robots for military and public sector applications.
Ultimately, the team from Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School won the competition after their bridge held the most weight.
Engineers without Borders is an international organization that solves problems in underdeveloped countries. The UMass chapter just completed a project developing a water system in Panama. Their next project will be to build latrines in Nicaragua, in a small village where wastewater is contaminating the water source. UMass students will visit the village this spring to complete a needs assessment, and then design the system in Fall 2020. They will return to Nicaragua in spring 2021 to construct it.