UB engineering students have designed a bridge, similar to
the one pictured above, for a dangerous ravine in Kenya. They are
raising money to buy materials and to travel to Africa to build the
bridge. Credit: Kelley Rehm
A senior class project for Jerome O’Connor’s
students is counting for much more than a final grade; it’s
giving them real world experience and a chance to help people in
O’Connor, a structural and earthquake engineer at the
University at Buffalo, asked his students to design a footbridge
across one of the many ravines in rural southeast Kenya.
During the rainy season, these ravines become impassible and
prevent access to education, economic development and healthcare.
The ravines have caused over 6,000 deaths in the last 10 years,
according to Bridging the Gap Africa, a nonprofit that has
built 48 pedestrian footbridges in Kenya.
UB partnered with the organization to help improve
people’s lives while giving students some practical
“I decided if the students were going to go through all
the trouble to design something, it may as well be something that
will actually be built and provide a benefit to people,” said
O’Connor, adjunct professor of civil, structural and
environmental engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied
After doing an environmental impact assessment, the students
– 24 total working in teams of six – designed a
“suspended” or hanging bridge made of donated steel
cables that are supported by steel towers.
An experienced welder in Kenya will fabricate the towers and
most of the bridge materials will be sourced from within 100 miles
of where it will be built. A typical bridge will span 130 to 200
feet and have a 3.2-foot-wide walkway made of eucalyptus wood.
The students are raising money to buy materials needed for the
bridge, which will cost about $20,000. Additional funds are needed
for students who will travel to Africa to help build their
O’Connor, who also manages UB’s bridge engineering
program and works for MCEER, the university’s earthquake and
extreme events research center, came up with the idea after
speaking with Kelly Rehm, a member of the board of directors for
Bridging the Gap Africa, at a meeting of bridge engineers.
O’Connor inquired how UB could support their efforts. The
conversation led to the formation of O’Connor’s
curriculum. He also offered his students the option to attend the
Seventh National Seismic Conference on Bridges (7NSC) to assist him
in setting up and running the conference in Oakland, Calif.
“I felt this was both an enriching and rewarding
experience,” said Garrett Miller, a student who helped design
“I gained priceless information relative to the
up-and-coming research, technologies, and governmental policies
that will be used in the future of civil engineering,” said
Miller, who received a bachelor’s of science degree in civil
engineering in May and will return to UB this fall to pursue a
Although the upcoming task is daunting, the students feel they
already achieved a significant victory by their teamwork.
“When practicing engineering, we need to capitalize on
everyone’s strengths in order to excel as a team. Different
personalities, cultural perspectives, and technical skills help the
team arrive at a better solution than any one person would be
capable of,” O’Connor said.
If you would like to donate money to support their efforts,
click here: http://bit.ly/18KYQ1z