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Senior Spotlight: Student engineers promising future

Nicole Santos

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Victoria Goernert, a senior civil engineering major (fifth from the right), has participated in the Steel Bridge Competition for the past two years. Photo courtesy of Victoria Goernert.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Burj Khalifa in Dubai caught Victoria Goernert’s eye in an instant.

“I’ve always marveled at bridges and large buildings and how they were built,” she said. “I knew from a young age that I would love to do that.”

Goernert, a senior civil engineering major, has participated in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition for the past two years. This year, she competed in the Mid-Pacific Student Conference on April 3-4 at UC Davis.

“MidPac is held by a different school in Northern California every year, but we compete against schools in Canada, Nevada, China and Japan,” she said.

Goernert was captain for the Steel Bridge portion along with senior civil engineering major Kevin Logsdon.

“For the duration of the year, we worked together with a team of 12 other students to design and fabricate a 19.5-foot arch bridge,” she said. “The competition is not part of a class, although our team has a faculty adviser that is a civil engineering professor. We are called the Steel Bridge Team and are part of the American Society of Civil Engineers.”

Together, Goernert and Logsdon dedicated the fall semester to drafting and analyzing different designs for minimum deflection and maximum strength.

“Following the design period, material testing was performed using the universal testing machine to select the optimum size steel grade,” Goernert said. “Once the final design and materials were selected, fabrication of the bridge began entirely by students on campus.”

The team utilized the help of sustainable manufacturing students to fabricate connection pieces using a computerized numerical control machine.

“Leading up to MidPac, the team spent time on assembly practice of the bridge for optimum speed and efficiency at competition,” she said. “Our team this year fabricated the bridge in less than two weeks entirely in the Langdon lab.”

This year, 11 schools competed in the Steel Bridge Competition. Friday consisted of aesthetics judging of the bridges, and Saturday the bridges were built and loaded.

“At competition, the bridge must be built over a 6-foot river using no larger than 3-foot members,” Goernert said. “No builder was allowed to enter the river, but the faster the build time, the cheaper your bridge will be. The cheapest bridge altogether wins the competition.”

At competition, after fabrication, the hardest part of building the bridge is the speed of the build in competition, she said.

“We had selected connection pieces that slide together and turnbuckle laterals to help speed up the build,” Goernert said.

Only two of the 11 bridges held the 2,400 pounds total without breaking.

“Our bridge this year held 2,000 pounds before the column laterals buckled and the bridge failed,” she said. “Because the bridge broke we technically disqualified.”

Another competition Goernert competed in was part of the Structural Engineers Association of Central California. There were four schools total, including Sacramento State, UC Davis, University of the Pacific and Chico State.

“We designed and built a wooden truss-based on certain size constraints in one day,” she said. “After the build, the trusses were tested to see which one would hold the most load.”

Goernert said it’s always great going to competitions to meet different students from schools all over California.

“These people will end up being colleagues, so it is a great opportunity for networking,” she said. “It is also really interesting to see the different ideas other teams have to solve the specific problem statement.”

Goernert is graduating this semester and has accepted a job in Texas with a company named VSL: Steel Post-Tensioning and Specialty Reinforcement Systems.

“I’m really excited about the travel experiences involved with the job,” Goernert said. “Not only do they help you figure out what type of engineering you want to do, they are also an international company, which allows them to bid projects all over the U.S. and world.”

After graduating and working for two to three years, Goernert hopes to complete the Professional Engineers Licensing Test.

“After this, I will be a professional engineer,” she said, “and will be able to put my stamp of approval on my designs before going to construction.”

Nicole Santos can be reached at [email protected] or @Iam_NicoleS on Twitter.

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Senior Spotlight: Student engineers promising future