First women co-captains lead BYU steel bridge team to finals

In April, BYU’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) took home first place at the Rocky Mountain Regional Steel Bridge Competition, beating out 13 other schools from Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico. The team will be heading to the final round of the competition next month.

The Steel Bridge Competition invites students from all around the world to build a steel bridge which can carry a load of 2,500 pounds. BYU civil engineering students and co-captains of BYU’s Steel Bridge Team, Shannon Oh and Ashley Sadler found that this requires a lot of hard work.

Oh and Sadler are the first women to become captains of the BYU Steel Bridge Team, which was a huge motivator for them throughout the competition. “I hope that we can help other girls in our major and in the college to think, ‘If they can do, it we can do it too,’ and to not be intimidated by the other guys in their classes,” Oh said.

The co-captains proved they could hold their own. Constructing a steel bridge is a long process. Oh, Sadler, and their team started working on the Steel Bridge last August. First, they designed the bridge and made spreadsheets to get the bridge optimized. After that, they drew out the pieces and were then able to order the steel. It wasn’t until winter semester that they were able to cut and weld everything together.

The team was able to get everything done two days before the competition, and then started to practice assembling the bridge. The team was able to put the bridge together about 10 times, which was more than the team has been able to practice in previous years. However, when they loaded the bridge to see how much weight it could hold, the bridge broke.

Oh and Sadler found that one of the reasons their bridge broke was because of a problem with welding. Ultimately, the welds were insufficient to support the weight of the bridge. “That’s one of the main reasons why the bridge broke,” Sadler said. “We had to cut off most of the connections and weld them again the night before.”

The team persevered. Oh and Sadler explained that although they stayed up until 3 a.m. and 2 a.m. in the two days leading up to the competition, the team was able to fix the bridge in time. Oh and Sadler agreed that the day of the competition was really stressful, but they were confident in their work. Oh also mentioned that their team’s ability to focus and have fun at the same time made their team stand out from the others.

“We enjoyed each other, we were joking and laughing,” Oh said. “I think that one of the reasons we did so well is because we worked so well as a group.”

Oh said that winning was a fantastic feeling, and that it was a “picture-perfect ending” to the competition. Even after winning, Oh and Sadler found that there were some things they wanted to practice or improve before they compete in the finals. These include reducing the amount of time it takes to tighten the bolts on the bridge, and practicing more loading sequences to prepare for a worst-case scenario. They also found ways they want to improve next year. 

“Another thing we learn year after year is to get the design done as quickly as possible because when we come to constructing the bridge, it always takes way longer than we were planning,” Sadler said.

Oh and Sadler have learned a lot from competing in the Steel Bridge Competition. This includes applying technical material they learned in class, learning to work with a team, and keeping organized. The team also had to follow a strict rule book, which helped them learn how to comply with standards.

This is not Oh and Sadler’s first time competing in the Steel Bridge Competition, and both agreed that students who are not sure about getting involved definitely should. Sadler has been involved since she came to BYU, and has found that working on projects outside of the classroom has helped her better understand what she has learned in class. Oh has been involved since her junior year, but said she wishes she had become involved earlier. She said that as a freshman she was intimidated, and felt like she had nothing to offer.

“That’s definitely not true,” Sadler added. “There are so many things we have to do to prepare. There are posters to make, drawings, and calculations, so we really need all skill levels.”

The BYU ASCE Steel Bridge team will be competing in the finals May 26-27 at Oregon State University.

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