Author: Danielle McKenna
Associate Teaching Professor, Rachel Sangree, emcees the 2024 Wood Bridge Challenge at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
Associate Teaching Professor, Rachel Sangree analyzes a student's bridge aesthetic and structural profile before load testing the built model.

The Department of Civil and Systems Engineering recently celebrated its 21st year of involvement in the national Wood Bridge Challenge. This annual competition, organized nationwide by the Illinois Institute of Technology since 1993, encourages high school students to develop hands-on engineering skills through the construction and testing of model wooden bridges. This year’s Maryland competition took place on February 3 at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.  

Since 2003, CaSE faculty and students have volunteered on the day of the event to support this competition, which tasks students to construct the most efficient basswood bridge spanning an approximate 1-inch gap, with winners determined by their strength-to-weight ratio.  

This year, Associate Teaching Professor and event emcee Rachel Sangree along with undergraduate civil engineering students Tayo Ilunga-Reed ’25 and Zach Martin ‘25 served as volunteers, assisting students with registration, placing models into the bridge testing machine, collecting load and displacement data, and providing an explanation of the real-time data collected during each test. Nearly 55 students participated from a variety of Maryland schools including Hereford High School. 

“Zach and I had a great time helping out and supporting local high schoolers while continuing a long-standing tradition,” said Ilunga-Reed. “The attention to detail each contestant showed was a testament not only to their knowledge of bridge engineering design, but also their craftsmanship. The students painstakingly developed intricate and effective bridges and then watched the destruction of their bridges with the confident assurance of someone who could do it all over again without breaking a sweat.” 

Sangree shared real-time explanations of each bridge’s performance and before each test, analyzed each bridge’s aesthetic and structural profile. Load testing equipment and cameras that gave spectators both a close-up, top-down view of each bridge being tested and plotted a graph of the bridge’s load and displacement data were on loan from the Whiting School of Engineering.  

First, second, and third place winners received plaques and cash prizes, as well as financial support to participate in the international wood bridge competition to be held on April 27 in Ohio. Awards were also provided in the categories of efficiency, aesthetics, and people’s choice. Additional supporting organizations include the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers. 

“We love to support this event because it gives high school students an idea of what it’s like to be an engineer, designing structures to a set of specifications and then seeing how well their structure functions,” Sangree said.