Lael Case Corvallis OR.jpg

Leal Case at a contest in Corvallis.

Nearly 3,000 miles away from Cloverdale, a pair of Nestucca High School seniors ventured to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD to face 59 of the best young bridge builders in the world.

Nestucca students Jack Remington and Lael Case both competed in the International Bridge Building Contest on Saturday, April 6. The two boys are both members of the Nestucca engineering class taught by Ron Smith, who has been taking students to the contest for numerous years.

But not just anyone is permitted; you must qualify by finishing first or second at a regional contest, which for Nestucca is held at Oregon State University. This year Nestucca had the top four finishers at the annual contest at OSU, as Remington placed first, Case second and senior Josh Seals was third.

The competition is essentially based on the bridge efficiency, which is calculated by how much weight the bridge holds relative to its weight. But Smith said there are a few factors that play into which bridges are efficient and which ones aren’t.

“The design is key,” Smith said. “I don’t care if you are a great fabricator, if you don’t have a good design, your bridge is going to fail. These guys had a great design and they are excellent fabricators.”

International Contest

As the top two regional finishers, Remington and Case qualified for the international competition, which featured 59 other bridge builders. At the contest Case’s bridge weighed 10.5 grams (3/8 of an ounce) and held 37.48 Kilograms (82 pounds) with an efficiency of 3,932, which means the bridge held 3,932 times its own weight. The outstanding display of efficiency was good enough for a third place finish in the stacked field of young engineers.

In his first year competing in the contest, Case placed fourth in the regional contest last year, just missing out on the international contest. But this year, his hard work paid off with second place finish.

“What really makes the difference is putting in the time and effort,” Case said. “We came in over spring break, over President’s Day weekend and spent many hours working on our bridges.”

Fellow senior Remington had a solid showing as well. After placing first in regionals and 14th at the international contest last year, Remington made a big jump and finished in fourth place this year in Baltimore.

Smith was impressed by the work of his students and stressed that performing well in this contest is no easy feat. Every year the design parameters change as do the loading points, so from year to year the same bridge design is never used, making it tougher for the students. But Smith said having seniors who have been through the class once already definitely makes a difference.

“My three top placers at regionals are all seniors and that’s because they had done it before as juniors and knew what they were doing,” Smith said. “It made a big difference, knowing how to construct a bridge.”

Finishing third and fourth in the competition was a huge accomplishment for the two seniors and Smith said they nearly took home the first in second place spots.

“We were first and second through 57 bridges,” Smith said. “Bridge number 58 and 59 beat them, but I thought we had it.”

One of the most dominant schools in the competition year after year actually resides in Oregon as well, which is Riverdale High School. But this year, Nestucca had the upper hand on their bridge building rivals, which made the top finishes that much sweeter.

“They’ve dominated both the regional and international contest for years, but we got them this year,” Smith said. “This year they finished 7th and 11th internationally.”

Sustaining Success

Nestucca is now the favorite to win their region year in and year out thanks to both the dedication of Smith and his students. Aiding their dominance has also been the addition of a new bridge tester that helps the students pinpoint exactly where their bridge is failing, without destroying their bridge.

“Before we would pour sand into a bucket and test how much the bridge would hold until it completely shattered your bridge and you’d have to start all over,” Smith said. “Now we have a tester that stops immediately after just a single member fails, so you can see it, repair it, make it stronger and test it again.”

New Experiences, What’s Next?

Even though the focus on the long trip across the United States was bridge building, the two seniors also got a chance to experience what a different region of the world had to offer.

“It was fun and kind of like a quick little vacation,” Remington said. “We went to the national mall and did some sight seeing, so it was a worthwhile experience. We want to thank the school district because they’ve been really supportive of us in letting us have that experience.”

Both students will be receiving their diplomas in a couple months and their options are limitless. But they agreed their future could include pursuing engineering. And they have Smith and the engineering program at Nestucca to thank for that.

“We’re both interested in going into engineering, so having a class dedicated to that gives us an idea of the benefits of pursuing engineering,” Case said.

After years of seeing students come and go through his classroom, Smith said it is refreshing to have students who come in and work hard, making his dedication to the engineering program worthwhile.

“These kids took it seriously,” Smith said. “They had that want and desire to win and it made it worth it for me to put in some extra time here and there to help them get into a position to compete at the highest level and find success.”

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