UB ASCE is the top student chapter in Region 1; wins Upstate New York steel bridge competition

ASCE's steel bridge team building during the 2019 regional conference at RIT.

ASCE's steel bridge team building during the 2019 regional conference at RIT

By Peter Murphy

Published May 14, 2019

“ASCE has been everything in college, it's been what's driven me. ”
Zachary Vacek, Vice President

UB’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter was recognized as a top ASCE club for its design teams and administration last month.

The club will head to the national steel bridge competition after receiving first place in five out of six different categories, including overall performance at the ASCE Upstate New York regional competition held at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) last month. What is more significant about these accomplishments is the change in rules this year compared to multiple years passed.

“There had to be a longer span this year, making bridge loading more difficult,” says ASCE vice president and civil engineering senior, Zachary Vacek, “the footings had to be offset, so the bridge had to be asymmetrical. I haven’t seen this before and I’ve been with ASCE for four years.”

The timing of the upstate conference was challenging as well, as it was a week earlier than past conferences. Students had less time to practice building the bridge and perfect their build time, according to club president and civil engineering major Conor Blake.

“Last year we had three weeks to practice building the bridge, compared to about a week this year,” Blake says, “I think for Jeremy (Desjardins) and Nick (Belmonte), the project managers, this was definitely rewarding. They had less time, they were training and recruiting new members; they were still teaching and helping anyone that needed it during crunch time.”

Desjardins and Belmonte’s mentorship represents a larger initiative enacted by UB ASCE over the past two years that contributed to the club’s stance as the Distinguished Chapter in Region 1.

“We’re the top student chapter in all of Region 1, which is everything northeast of New Jersey and some of the eastern Canadian provinces,” Blake says, “it’s not based on the design teams so much as our general meetings, guest speakers, career development, social and general activity.”

Over the past two academic years, both Vacek and Blake served as president of the club (Vacek in 2017-2018 and Blake in 2018-2019), and each leader focused on new initiatives, specifically with guest speakers.

“One of the things we did this year was bring in guest speakers from all the different areas of civil engineering and professional development,” Vacek says, “we did it because, looking at our own experiencing going through school, we didn’t really know what the disciplines were. I think I would’ve started thinking about it earlier if I could have applied my classes toward one of those disciplines.”

UB ASCE also increased its community involvement when Vacek and Blake took over. According to Blake, this could have been another area national ASCE noted in recognizing the club with its distinction. “We did a lot more over the past two years. We were working with habitat for humanity monthly, did a couple of blood drives here on campus and worked with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. We also helped the Department with different things here and there.”

Blake and Vacek will graduate this year taking their years of experience in UB ASCE with them. Both students describe ASCE as essential to their college careers, and cherish the experience the club brought them, “management experience is something not a lot of college students get to do,” according to Blake.

Vacek stresses the people skills he learned while at ASCE, and says it had a major impact on his life. “ASCE has been everything in college, it’s been what’s driven me,” he says, “I’m proud of how things went, and I don’t think the two of us (Blake and Vacek) could leave things in a better spot than where they are right now.”

The UB ASCE steel bridge team will compete in the national competition at the University of Southern Illinois from May 31 – June 1.