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Newark High students place first in bridge design contest

Three Newark High School seniors earned $900 and a first-place title in an engineering competition hosted by DelDOT.

The competition, in its second year, asked students to use 3D modeling software to design a bridge and then build a balsa wood model.

The teammates – seniors Jessica Smith, Jiana “Lucy” Xu and Joseph Taylor – first learned about the competition in December.

Smith said that she and Xu were familiar with bridge building through their participation in Science Olympiad. Taylor became involved through his proficiency with CAD, the software used for the creation and development of a design.

“I’ve always been fascinated with bridges, since I started Science Olympiad,” Smith said. “It’s just something that clicked for me, just like right away, I had this love for it. So that’s what I want to do with my career.”

Xu agreed.

“I always liked building when I was younger, with Legos and stuff like that,” she said, adding that she wants to major in civil engineering at the University of Delaware.

Taylor said that he wants to study product design at Johnson & Wales University.

“It’s just innovating and creating new ideas, so it’s within the engineering field,” he added.

They were tasked with designing a model deck arch truss bridge with materials sent to them in a DelDOT-provided kit. Students were to use the least amount of materials to support the desired weight.

Beyond designing the bridge, they also wrote a report that communicated their design and analysis, as well as gave a presentation on the final design.

“That’s one factor that definitely helped us win,” Taylor said about the proposal. “We were very detailed about it.”

Peter Yonko, a physics and engineering teacher at NHS, said the contest epitomized what a professional engineering would do.

“There’s a problem that somebody brings to you, you have to bring a creative proposal of how to solve the problem, then you have to do a presentation to somebody or a group of people, investors or whatever, whoever has the problem,” he said. “And then you have to come up with some prototype to test.”

The students did create a prototype, which they tested to failure and then rebuilt.

Yonko said the competition exemplified a “rare teacher moment.”

“It was really thrilling when they made that announcement that we had won. It was awesome,” he said. “Just everything came together.”

As NHS begins rolling out its School of Innovation as part of the high school reimagining initiative, seeing the students succeed in an engineering competition was a nice touch, Yonko added.

For the students, it also presented them with an opportunity to meet those working in their future fields.

“It was a nice way to make contact with engineers and possible internships while they’re in school, and then employment afterwards,” Yonko added.

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