Published July 5, 2019
The UB American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) student club’s steel bridge team received second-place honors for construction speed and earned fourth place overall at last month’s National Student Steel Bridge Competition at Southern Illinois University, tying UB’s best finish in chapter history.
The trip was the UB team’s second consecutive trip to the national competition. The team earned 12th place overall in 2018, and felt positive heading into this competition, according to UB ASCE vice president Zachary Vacek.
“After regionals, we looked at the different scores from all the regions, and based on how everyone performed, we were fifth overall,” Vacek says. UB ASCE earned first place in the Upstate New York Regional Competition in March.
More than 40 student clubs from the United States and Puerto Rico competed in six different categories: construction speed, lightness, aesthetics, stiffness, economy and efficiency. UB’s team had the second-fastest time for construction speed, and finished in the top 10 in four of the five remaining categories.
The team worked on modifications to the bridge up until the day of the competition, says steel bridge co-project manager Nicholas Belmonte.
“After reviewing the results from regionals, we motivated the team to kick it into high gear and try to make improvements before nationals,” Belmonte says. “We spent long days and nights working in the lab. The build team practiced several nights in the hotel parking lots, and we dropped our build time by over a minute.”
Eighteen students — half of them seniors — traveled with the steel bridge team to nationals. Vacek and Belmonte have been members of UB ASCE for four years. UB ASCE president Conor Blake, another senior who has been with the club for multiple years, recognized the significance of the team’s makeup.
“It’s very rewarding for us, as seniors, to see years of hard work pay off,” Blake says. “The other half who made the trip are new members. It’s great for them to see the level of competition and get ideas for future years and look to continue the legacy.”
The new members valued their experience traveling to nationals, Vacek says. “It really is a huge turning point. They come back from nationals with a greater understanding of the level of competitiveness, and are prepared to be future leaders of this team,” he says. “It’s so great as a senior to see some of the members on their first nationals trip just mesmerized and motivated by this competition.”
This year marks the third time in the UB steel bridge team’s history that the group finished in the top five — the team placed fourth in 2015 and fifth in 2016. This history of success provided some of the motivation, Blake explains. “We always heard about the 2015 bridge team. I’m hoping our story will get passed down and fuel the future teams to try and beat it.”
The 2018-19 steel bridge team’s legacy and the legacy of the 2018-19 ASCE student club go beyond the stellar finish at nationals, notes steel bridge team co-project manager Jeremy Desjardins. “It is incredible how we placed at nationals. This is going to inspire our new recruits from the 2019 competition to become more involved and hopefully get new members involved,” Desjardins says. “I have met some of my best friends because of my involvement with the steel bridge team, and I hope that tradition of developing bonds continues.”
Belmonte and Desjardins say that when they got together with the team in August to set goals for the upcoming year, they recognized the advantage they had over some other teams, with UB ASCE’s steel bridge team returning nine senior members.
“I knew we had the potential, but how we competed and placed was only half the battle,” Belmonte says. “The success we had would be erased if we couldn’t mentor a group of younger members to continue the success for the coming years. When I addressed the team and stated our goals, I told everyone that we have the potential to ‘leave a legacy.’”
Belmonte’s talk of the team’s legacy illustrates a larger initiative by UB ASCE leadership over the past two years to encourage junior and senior members to mentor some of the younger members and get them more involved than in previous years. “I wanted to leave a legacy with this team and upcoming teams by setting the precedent of not only success but mentorship,” Belmonte says.
“Not only did we place fourth, but we worked hard and mentored a group of younger students to lead the team for years to come. We taught them the same skills and pride that UB steel bridge carries.”