Nerves of Steel


Student competition team faces nation’s strongest, lands in top 20 in country KENNESAW, Ga….

Georgia (May 27, 2015)

Student competition team faces nation’s strongest, lands in top 20 in country

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 27, 2015) — In unison, six members of the Kennesaw State Steel Bridge team practiced fervently to build their bridge, a project they designed, fabricated and constructed over the past year. Their goal: Build it in the least possible time with the fewest mistakes.

“They’ve practiced their build nearly a thousand times,” said Michael Orlandella, associate professor emeritus of civil engineering at Kennesaw State and the team’s faculty advisor.

Students on the Steel Bridge Student Competition Team spent hundreds of hours refining their design, making fabrication modifications and testing their 124-pound steel structure throughout the year for a chance to compete in the American Society of Civil Engineers/American Institute of Steel Construction’s national competition.

The team, composed of civil and construction engineering students in Kennesaw State’s Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, returned recently from the ASCE/AISC Steel Bridge Competition with an 18th-place finish among 47 teams including the University of Florida, Virginia Tech and Texas A&M. 

“This is the premier competition for civil engineering programs in country,” said Orlandella. “Besides learning how to raise money and work under extreme pressure, this student competition reinforces all of the theories that we teach in the classroom.”

The months of hard training for the team – constructing the bridge, taking it apart, refining the design and rebuilding – prepared them for the intensity and high pressure of the competition, Orlandella added.

“But no matter how hard we train, pressure leads to mistakes, which leads to penalties,” he said. “We try to minimize the penalties, but the pressure is so intense.” 

ASCE sets the rules for this annual fast-paced steel bridge student competition – the specifications of the bridge, environmental concerns or dimensional constraints that must factor into the design, and any other restrictions. Penalties are given for even minor infractions such as a loose bolt or a dropped power tool.

“This year’s rules were the toughest ever in the Steel Bridge Competition history,” said Orlandella. “Two of last year’s top three national finishers did not qualify for this year’s competition. Nationally, two-thirds of the schools that built bridges were disqualified.”

Although Orlandella and the entire team had hoped for a better outcome, they still ranked among the nation’s best. The team’s co-captain Daniel Silvestri said the team gained more than just experience in a competition setting, they also gained valuable experience in design, fabrication and leadership.

“We do not have any modern fabrication equipment, and we had to cut, weld and fabricate our own pieces,” said Silvestri.

According to ASCE, the competition increases awareness of engineering issues such as spatial constraints, material properties, strength, serviceability, fabrication and erection processes, safety, esthetics, and cost, preparing students for the challenges facing the engineering industry.

The Kennesaw State team showed off their design and bridge-building skills in Tennessee earlier this spring when they landed a second-place regional finish, which qualified them for the national competition. 

“Our construction speed is what helped us get second place in regionals,” said Silvestri. “We built ours in 5 minutes and 23 seconds. The next team to finish after us took 11 minutes.”   

More than 225 student teams vied for a spot in the national competition, but only 47 qualified to compete. Teams were judged in six categories, including display, construction speed, lightness, stiffness, construction economy and structural efficiency.

The Steel Bridge team at the Marietta Campus has been competing nationally since 1992 when ASCE first launched a national student steel bridge competition. In the past 23 years, the team has placed in the top 20 in the nation 17 times.

- Tiffany Capuano; photo by David Caselli 


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit