Engineering students at Booker T. Washington High School cut straws into triangles and fastened them with tape to build a two-foot bridge that could hold a little extra weight.
“We need to build a sturdy platform that can withhold everything,” said student Nakiyah Scott while working with her teammate Monday on a bridge-building challenge that helped kick off a summer-long design team internship program at Washington.
Students were given three boxes of straws, three rolls of tape, a pair of scissors, and one hour to create a bridge that could also hold all of the materials they used, including any leftover trash such as the boxes and tape packaging. The challenge was to create the strongest bridge with the fewest straws.
“We need to add as much support as we can with the least amount of stress,” said student Osmar Barrera Jr., whose team built a bridge with 40 straws and beat Scott’s team, which used 42. “This challenge definitely helped us work together as a team and taught us time management.”
Ten students applied for the design team internship program, but only four students were selected to learn more about the design of the new Washington, which will be rebuilt into a 21st century campus under HISD’s 2012 bond program. The students will meet one-on-one with the school’s architects, project managers, and construction team four days a week for eight hours until August.
Afterward, the students will make a presentation about their experience in the program at a community meeting about the design and construction of their new school. They will also be awarded with a $2,000 scholarship and recommendation letters from the program leaders.
During the challenge, the two student teams also competed against the program leaders, who created bridges of their own, including a sling bridge made with just 38 straws.
“I sort of cheated because I’ve done this with other high school groups,” said architect Ed Schmidt of Fanning Howey House Partners, the architectural firm designing the new Washington. “While we’re working on this project, we want to give the students an introduction to architecture, engineering, construction, and project management. Good design can change a person’s life. We want them to be good stewards of design by involving them in the design of the school through observation and mentoring.”
Half of the program is academic based, and the other half will focus on mentorship. The students will visit the offices of Fanning Howey House Partners, the KBR Building Group – the school’s contractor, and the Kwame Building Group, program manager of the new school. They will also visit HISD construction sites and the district’s Construction and Facility Services building.
“We’ve already learned a lot today – the differences and similarities between what architects and engineers do and how much it costs to build a building,” Scott said. “At school, we’ve focused on chemical and mechanical engineering. Now we’re seeing engineering from a different angle that’s more business-like.”
The program’s leaders would like to see the program expanded to involve more students in the future.
“This is a great opportunity for students not only to learn more about the engineering of a new school building but to also get an idea of what architects, engineers, construction managers, and project managers do on a daily basis,” said Amanda Goodie of the Kwame Building Group. “If they decide to pursue these fields in college and their career, this experience will help them.”