NJIT Makes Highlander History with a Top-Ten Finish in the Steel Bridge Nationals

NJIT's history-making steel bridge team

With strategic innovations and nimble construction, NJIT placed sixth overall in the 2015 National Student Steel Bridge Competition this past weekend, earning Highlander civil engineers their highest national ranking since they entered the contest for the first time 20 years ago.

Assembled under the watchful gaze of five judges at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Mo., NJIT’s student bridge team achieved high marks for construction economy and efficiency, as well as lightness and durability. NJIT bested large schools such as Penn State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Texas A&M to secure its top-ten ranking.

"We improved a lot, going from 12th place at last year's national competition to sixth this year. Our bridge got a lot lighter and we figured out a new way to connect it that was much faster," said Matt Tchorz ’15, of Wallington, one of the team co-captains.

"We were so excited when we realized we had a chance to be in the top ten. We could barely wait for our results," said Kevin Alvernaz ’15, of Newark, also a team co-captain, who described the experience as a little nerve-wracking because NJIT was the last team of 47 to build. “I was too nervous to watch the others,” he added.

The team’s advisors praised the students for their “incredible teamwork and dedication by every member,” while pointing to standout performances such as the "smoking" 12.92-minute bridge construction time posted by builders Oscar Chaves '15, of Newark, and Devin Berniz '15, of Budd Lake.

The team’s time was notable in that it represented a strategic risk that paid off. Following the Highlanders’ first-place finish in the regional contest last month, where a three-man team assembled the bridge in 10 minutes and 45 seconds, the captains decided to enter a team of two. If successful, the smaller crew would earn NJIT high marks for reducing the cost of construction – an important metric.

“The strategy worked out well for us,” said Alvernaz. “There is always a balancing act between the number of builders and the time, but we calculated in advance the time we had to achieve with a two-man team and made sure we could meet it.”

In other noteworthy achievements, the team placed second for lightness with a 95-pound structure capable of supporting a load of 2,500 pounds over a clear span of 19 feet, fifth for construction economy and ninth for structural efficiency.

“NJIT had two good innovations this year,” said John Schuring, a professor of civil and environmental engineering in the John A. Reif., Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), who is a team advisor along with department coordinator Heidi Young and Andrew Flory, the CEE laboratory supervisor. “First, using a temporary beam spanning from one abutment to the next saved the team time and manpower, eliminating the need for a third crew member to hold the bridge up during construction. And second, the team blended what is known as a ‘classic queen post’ truss with a high-tech wing-shaped top chord, giving the bridge superior structural stiffness.”

Schuring, who characterizes the competition as “engineering meets athletics,” noted that the strict contest rules “still leave room for imagination.”

A total of 224 bridge teams from engineering schools across the U.S. and abroad entered the contest this year, and 47 advanced to the national round. The teams are judged on seven categories, including adherence to the specifications, time, weight and stiffness, among other factors.

NJIT’s team has been working on the bridge’s design since last summer, analyzing more than 30 bridges before selecting one to construct in the allotted 45 minutes.

Following their win in the regional round, the team captains attributed this year's success in part to their design, but also to the advice and training they received from past captains. The team was accompanied to Kansas City by CEE alumni Giancarlo Fricano and Tom Woloszyn, who worked with the team throughout the year.

Schuring echoed their remarks about the powerful NJIT legacy, noting, "This win reflects the excellence of this year's team, but is also an acknowledgement of past teams. Each year we see improvements. You don't achieve success in a single year."

The competition is organized by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The NJIT team was sponsored by Acrow USA and Schiavone Constructors and Engineers.

By Tracey Regan