The Steel Bridge Team is an Exercise in Excellence

Steel Bridge Team member Mat Tchorz shown assembling the bridge during the recent regional contest held at NYU-Polytechnic in Brooklyn, where the team took first place.

For the past eight years, the Steel Bridge Team has won the regional bridge building contest. And by winning last month’s regional, the team earned a spot in the National Steel Bridge Competition.

 It’s a two-day contest, May 31 and June 1, held at the University of Washington in Seattle. There, the team will square off against 49 other top engineering schools such as MIT, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue.

And though it’s fun to win, the team offers students much more than that. The team offers them a chance to work on a hands-on engineering project; it allows them to apply the theories they learn in class to a reduced-scale bridge; they get to work closely with prominent NJIT professors; with alumni from past steel bride teams as well as with the companies that sponsor the team. And perhaps most importantly, some of those companies end up hiring the students..

Take, for instance, Giancarlo Fricano, a steel-bridge team alum who came to NYU- Polytechnic’s campus in Brooklyn last month to watch the current team compete in Regionals. While a student at NJIT, Fricano captained the team for two years; in 2009 and 2010. And this year he returned to campus many times to advice the team on its bridge. Fricano now works as a superintendent engineer for Schiavone, a sponsor that also helps the students learn how to fabricate steel. He said he was offered his job in large part because of the leadership and engineering skills he honed as a member of the steel bridge teams.

Watch: NJIT Steel Bridge Team Regional Champs 8 years in a Row

“When you interview for a job and can show the work you did on a major hands-on project," Fricano added, "the employer can easily evaluate the end product of your work." “The members of this bridge team will have an easier time finding jobs because of the work they did on their bridge.”

Tom Woloszyn, co-captain of the current bridge team, said leading the team has been the highlight of his NJIT education.

“All of us on the team feel that it has been the most rewarding experience of our lives,” said Woloszyn, a senior who is majoring in civil engineering. “We learned to work as a team and we’ve become friends. We got to know our professors better and we worked closely with our company sponsors. Some of our past team members have gotten jobs working for our sponsors.”

John Schuring, a professor of civil engineering who for decades has winningly advised the steel bridge teams, explained why they perennially succeed. First, the upper classmen on the team mentor the sophomores and freshmen, which leads to a continuum of knowledge. And second, the students join the team of their own volition. They don’t receive academic credit for joining. They join because they want to -- and that makes all the difference.

“Civil engineering majors love hands-on building projects,” he says. “They put in endless hours of work on the bridges because they love to design and build.”

Asked whether the team has a chance to place in the national contest, Schuring says, “yes,” but quickly adds that that’s not the point. Making it to the national contest shows that NJIT can compete against the biggest engineering schools in the country, he says, and the team of 11 members is excited to fly to Seattle to compete in the contest.

“But in the end just being invited to the national steel bridge building competition is a reward in itself, adds Schuring. “It allows our students to experience the most exciting civil engineering contest in the country. And being on the team teaches them so much and gives so much pleasure. It has even has helped many of them get jobs working in the field. What more can you ask?"

By Robert Florida