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Building bridges: Negaunee High School wins again in national competition

Negaunee High School’s EKR Miner Construction team is the winner of the division for 11th and 12th grades at the recent 17th annual TRAC Bridge Challenge in Park City, Utah. From left are adviser Kevin Bell, Collin Remilong, Theo Kumpula and Keegan Erva. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Transportation)

PARK CITY, Utah — Michigan middle and high school students continued a decade-long run and dominated a national bridge-building competition event in Utah recently as teams from around the state took six of the top nine places.

The EKR Miner Construction team from Negaunee High School won the division for grades 11-12.

Michigan students competed against budding engineers from around the U.S. at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ 17th annual TRAC Bridge Challenge competition in Park City, Utah.

The teams spend nearly eight months building miniature bridges from kits using balsa wood and glue, which are then judged on design and tested to destruction to determine their strength. Teams also make detailed presentations about their bridges before a panel of judges. All team members receive medals and cash prizes were awarded, with first-place teams getting $1,200, second-place teams receiving $900 and third-place teams receiving $600.

Eighteen squads competed this year, selected from 24 states that participated. Besides Michigan, teams from California, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland and Mississippi qualified for the nationals. Competitors were all involved in one of AASHTO’s educational outreach programs: TRAC. or Transportation and Civil Engineering, for high school students, and RIDES, or Roadways In Developing Elementary Students.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has been offering the TRAC program to schools in Michigan since 2004.

The competition’s goal is to develop a bridge that will carry as much weight as possible while weighing as little as possible. Students compete in separate age categories: grades 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12. Michigan teams took first and second places in all three age categories, securing six of the nine top spots.

“It’s great to see this year’s group of enthusiastic students continue Michigan’s success in the TRAC program,” said state Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba in a news release. “MDOT is proud to support this effort. It’s a direct investment in our state’s future and continues our emphasis on workforce development. This also continues an MDOT tradition of nurturing tomorrow’s engineers.”

This year, Michigan teams built on a long tradition of success at the competition, said Julie VanPortfliet, who manages the TRAC program for MDOT, in a news release. Out of the 18 national slots available, seven went to Michigan teams.

“I’m very proud of the way our Michigan students performed,” VanPortfliet said. “They really showed how our commitment to support science, technology, engineering and math education is paying off.”

VanPortfliet noted that teams from Negaunee High School, advised by Kevin Bell, have been invited to, and won, the division for 11th and 12th graders in the national bridge challenge for each of the past 10 years. This year, their winning bridge model weighed in at a mere 25 grams but supported a whopping 406 pounds before failing.

Members of the Negaunee team were Collin Remilong, Theo Kumpula and Keegan Erva.

Taking second and third places in that division were, respectively, the C.A.D. Bridge Design team from Annapolis High School in downstate Dearborn Heights, and Team Omega from East Union Attendance Center in Blue Springs, Mississippi.

C.A.D. stands for computer-aided design.

In the division for grades 9 and 10, the top three spots went to, respectively, the Northville Arch team from Northville High School in downstate Northville, the Knot Right Bridges team from Brandon High School in downstate Ortonville and Your Arch Nemesis from East Union Attendance Center.

In the division for grades 7 and 8, the top three places went to, respectively, the VS2 team from Portage Middle School in downstate Portage, the INNO-Builders team from Innoacademy in downstate Zeeland and Team Best from Guntown Middle School in Guntown, Mississippi.

TRAC is a hands-on education program designed for integration into science, math and social science classes with the goal of encouraging kids to pursue engineering and other science-related fields. The bridge challenge is part of MDOT’s TRAC program curriculum. More information is available at Michigan.gov/MDOT-TRAC.

Another facet of TRAC is its internship program, which offers 25 students statewide this year an opportunity to work for MDOT during the summer. VanPortfliet said many students have found hands-on, real-world learning was the key to their future.

“I’ve seen the tremendous difference the TRAC program can make for students,” VanPortfliet said. “Many kids have gone through TRAC and gained the confidence that they needed to go on to success in college and careers.”

With a projected shortage of engineers in the U.S. workforce over the next 10 years, VanPortfliet said this program can help prepare students for key roles throughout MDOT, Michigan and the United States.

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