The Steel Bridge Team Sweeps the Regionals

NJIT Steel Bridge Team Co-captians Giancarlo Fricano and Tien Tran

For the fifth year in a row, the NJIT Steel Bridge Team took first place in the Metropolitan Region’s Steel Bridge Competition.

The team further distinguished itself this year by winning every single category in the contest, such as structural efficiency, construction economy, stiffness and aesthetics. The NJIT team beat a host of other engineering schools such as Columbia University, Cooper Union and Rutgers.

During the contest, held at Farleigh Dickinson, the student teams had to assemble small-scale bridges in less than 30 minutes. The bridges had to be light yet able to sustain 2,500 pound loads. Under the discerning eye of judges, four NJIT students assembled its bridge in just over seven minutes, besting the second place team by seven minutes. By winning the regionals, the NJIT team earned a spot in the upcoming national steel bridge contest, scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend at Perdue University. 

The NJIT team has never won the nationals. But this year’s team is especially talented and, according to senior co-captains Tien Tran and Giancarlo Fricano, has a chance to win.

And more important than winning contests is the effect that being on the team has on members -- 18 civil engineering majors. Tien and Giancarlo, for instance, both seniors, say their association with the team was the highlight of their academic careers.  Belonging to the team was fun and educational and also helped launch their professional careers. After they graduate, both Tien and Giancarlo will work as civil engineers for Schiavone Construction. When the two interviewed individually at Schiavone, the recruiters were impressed by the work they did for the Steel Bridge Team. That in turn helped them get the jobs. Schiavone is also corporate sponsor of the team.

And in Giancarlo’s case, being on the team not only helped his future, but also his past.  For if not for the team, he says, he might never have made it through NJIT.  By his own admission his first year and a half at the university was disastrous. His grades were poor, he didn’t like his classes and he was always anxious. “I was depressed and fed up with NJIT,” Giancarlo recalls.

But once he joined the bridge team, his spirits lifted.  “After I got involved with the team,” he says, “I started to like school more and make more friends. That really turned my attitude around. I did better in my classes and enjoyed being at NJIT. Designing the bridge was a hands-on project that let me use the theory and calculations I was learning in class.”  

Joining the team didn’t salvage Tien’s academic career, the way it did Giancarlo’s, but it did make his years at NJIT immensely enjoyable. The team helped him forge close friendships, since the members spend endless hours together working and practicing on the bridge. “I’ve dedicated hundreds of hours each semester to this team,” says Tien. “In a given week during the spring semester, I spent about 40 hours with the team. So did Giancarlo. For most people, that’s a full time job, but we love it.”

At other colleges, Tien says, students get credit for joining a steel bridge team. At NJIT, though, the team is an extra-curricular activity. Students join the team for the love of building and design; that shared passion helps them they become fast friends – friendships that Tien suspects will last a lifetime.

The team’s faculty advisers, says Tien, are equally dedicated, especially Professor John Schuring, “who has gone above and beyond his duties to see our team succeed.”

“I think Professor Schuring is the reason why we have won the regional bridge contest the last five years in a row,” he adds.

Asked whether the team has a chance to win the nationals, Tien says that winning it isn’t really the point. Making the nationals shows that NJIT, a relatively small engineering school, can compete against the biggest engineering schools in the country. And the NJIT team is excited about the nationals.

“But in the end,” Tien says, “just being invited to the national bridge competition is a reward in itself. It allows us to experience one of the most exciting competitions in the country for civil engineering students. And just being on the team taught me so much, gave me so much pleasure and helped me get a job. Can anyone ask for anything more?”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)