SDSU Civil Engineering students earn awards at regional competition



SDSU’s civil engineering students were a part of three competitions at the American Society of Civil Engineers in Manhattan, Kansas from April 13-15.

Maria Atkinson, Reporter

South Dakota State University’s civil engineering students participated in three competitions through the American Society of Civil Engineers April 13 through the 15 in Manhattan, Kansas.

The students competed in the annual Steel Bridge, Concrete Canoe and the Student Symposium Paper Competitions. These challenges are used to help the students apply what they’ve learned in their engineering classes as well as work on their interpersonal and professional skills.

The steel bridge team, which placed 3rd overall, created a 20-foot-long bridge that carried over 2,500 pounds. The team designed the bridge at SDSU and then built and assembled the bridge under timed construction at the competition.

Josiah Anderson, a member of the steel bridge team, said that something unique about the team this year was that it was led by a senior design group and not by a traditional steel bridge team.

“Most schools don’t do this,” Anderson said. “This provided a unique opportunity to focus on the design of the bridge.”

This also meant that the team worked on the design much more than was required from the official rules of the competition.

Caleb Huizenga, a co-captain of the steel bridge team, said that one of the biggest challenges this year was the construction of the project and also the restrictions from the rules.

“We worked hard to overcome a very difficult set of rules,” Huizenga said.

Because there were so many small restrictions and rules, the team ran into some problems along the way.

Anderson shared a story of a technical problem the team ran into at competition.

“Before we started building the bridge, we were doing our walk-through with a judge and we found out that our drills were illegal,” Anderson said. “We weren’t sure what to do, so we asked another team if we could use their drills. They let us use them and watched us compete. I think that captures the spirit of the competition. That Steel Bridge is competitive, but it is also fun and collaborative.”

The steel bridge team members include: Matthew Croke, Luke Nichols, Alex Foley, Erik Thompson, Riley Oetken, Jelen DeJong, Jack Roering, Josiah Anderson, Caleb Huizenga and Ryan Borris.

The Student Symposium Paper competition participant, Brett Hatch, received 3rd at the regional competition.

For the competition this year, the team worked with a 50-page rule book filled with the technical specifications for the competition.

 “I truly did enjoy the whole experience,” Huizenga said. “The knowledge I learned and the experiences I had were unmatched by any other club or even capstone project.”

The concrete canoe team, which placed 5th overall, created a standard sized canoe and then raced with it at competition.

The canoe was created with a lightweight concrete mix, which needed to be able to float and also be strong enough to endure the water race. Additionally, the canoe needed to be considered aesthetically pleasing.

Natalie Poppens, a member of the canoe team, said that one of the biggest challenges this year was competing with such a young team. She said that an SDSU concrete canoe hadn’t raced in the water since 2019 due to COVID and bad weather last year.

“With 2019 being the last time we had raced, none of the current members have ever competed in the competition setting,” Poppens said. “This resulted in a very large learning curve for this year’s members.” 

Poppens estimated that the team spent around 120 hours completing this year’s canoe. 

“Every member put in an unprecedented amount of time and work into this year’s canoe to ensure it was race ready,” she said.

The concrete canoe team members include Cody Christensen, Matthew Maag, Rachel Zook, Rana Hegg, Natalie Poppens, Acadia Folkerts, Elizabeth Weber, Siri Vagle, Kyle Schoon, Alexander Sorensen, Brody Spies, Dylan Zellmann, Patrick Schultz, Kordell Feldhaus and Anthony Peters.

In addition to the awards these civil engineering students received, the SDSU chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers recently learned that they have received the Ridgway Award, for the best student chapter in the nation. This is the second year in a row that they have received this award.

This award is not based on how the teams do at competitions, instead it is on a yearly report on how the student officers plan and run the student chapter.

Zach Gutzmer, a professor at SDSU in the areas of engineering mechanics and structures and an advisor for the teams, said that this award considers the invited speakers, chapter goals, member engagement, community service and outreach throughout the year.

“It’s a very big honor, there are over 400 student chapters, so to be named the top it’s a great accomplishment for SDSU,” Gutzmer said. “And then doing it back-to-back, I didn’t think it was possible, but we got it.”

This is the fourth time SDSU has received this award. The other years have been in 1999, 2004, 2022 and now 2023.

“Teamwork is probably the main thing they learn,”Gutzmer said. “It’s much more about teamwork and leadership than steel and concrete.”