Competing in a daylong contest is the way that students in northern New Jersey have found how to test STEM skills with bridge building.

If only real bridges could be fixed with ingenuity and balsa wood, New Jersey would be in great shape.  But possibly in the future, young engineers will have the skills to solve those real problems, thanks to the bridge building they do today.

At Ramsey High School, a recent STEM contest matched students from eight schools against each other in a race to build a prototype of a bridge, which was similar to the newly reworked Tappan Zee Bridge crossing, now named the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

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Students had just four hours to build the miniature cable-stayed bridge, using only pins, strings, and balsa.  Prior to the contest no one knew what the project would be – they were told to practice tying loops and knots.

The contest was a busy morning of sanding and gluing on the work tables in Ramsey’s gym. The result was bridges that held up to 20 pounds of weight.

The winners were the six member team from Northern Highlands Regional High School.  They had overall design and weight predictions that were accurate and held up to testing. The group had built cable-stayed bridges in their school science labs.

“Time-management by far was the hardest part,” said Colin Branigan of Northern Highlands.

“It’s great for these budding engineers to compete,” said Jim Manzo, a technology education teacher in Ramsey. “Just like kids who play sports, this is their opportunity to excel without being an athlete.”

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