After a few years hiatus, the Brewster High School Engineering Club’s Bridge Building Competition returned this month thanks to the perseverance of sophomore Nico Kusterer.
Edward Schmidt, the Engineering Club’s advisor, said that Kusterer decided he was going to get the competition started again and just forced it to happen. “Nico’s a pretty enthusiastic kid and he really wanted to have this legacy set up for himself,” Schmidt said. “He’s already excited for next year because he saw firsthand what worked and what didn’t. It’ll be even better next time around.”
Kusterer said that this desire to improve is a part of his personality. “I’m one of those students who is never pleased with his own work,” he said. “I always try to make it better.” He’s already planning on improving some of the communication issues he had while planning and was very receptive to input from parents after the event. “There were a lot of parents who came up to me afterward to tell me what could be improved and I was very appreciative of that.”
The competition itself is pretty straightforward. Students, working alone or in pairs, are given identical kits to construct balsa wood bridges. The finished bridges are suspended between two tables with a bucket hanging from them. The bucket is slowly loaded with weights until the bridge breaks. The weight at which the bridge fails is the final weight. Bridges were rated in a way that rewards students for both their use of materials and the structural strength of the bridge.
“You could choose to use whatever you wanted out of the kit,” Schmidt said. “The lighter you made the bridge, the more you were rewarded point wise. Of course, the more weight it held, the more you were rewarded as well. So it was possible to have a light bridge that carries less weight to still be the winner as opposed to a heavy bridge carrying even more weight. It’s a proportionality thing. It really forces the kids to think and try to design something effective.”
Initially funded and sponsored by the Brewster Education Foundation, the Bridge Building Competition has been a hit in years passed. According to Schmidt, students would get excited about the competition, remembering what worked and what didn’t work from the year before and adjust their constructions accordingly. Eventually, bridges were able to hold 200 to 300 pounds.
“The contest was designed for students who want to pursue engineering courses,” Kusterer explained.
At Brewster High School, many of the science courses are very hands-on. Schmidt, for one, believes in the power of tinkering.
“In my class, I tell them: here’s some stuff, go play. I want you to play, I want you to experience, I want you to burn something, I want you to break something. And don’t be afraid of it. That’s how I grew up,” he said. “I was constantly tearing things apart, rebuilding, fixing things. The goal of the Engineering Club is to get kids hands-on experience.”
With the competition, Schmidt explained, he, his students, and Kirsten Rusinko (who helped with the event) are “trying to foster that with the younger kids. We’re trying to get them to do something collaborative or with their hands at least.”
While not a classroom event, the Bridge Building Competition incorporates so many of the district’s Strategic Coherence Plan skills (critical thinking, communication and collaboration, adaptability, and perseverance) and demonstrates how these skills are becoming a part of the district’s overall culture.
Here’s a list of this year’s winners:
- 1st place: Emily Rusinko and Emily Monaco
- 2nd place: Josephine Armon and Makayla Grebb
- 3rd place: Enzo Hoaging
Special thanks to the following Engineering Club students for their help:
Aidan Carvajal helped make kits and deliver them to the schools.
Nathaniel Wdowski went to Trader Joe’s and spoke with the manager about the event. They provided the paper bags for the kits.
Jesse Frey and Anthony Ayala assisted at the competition.