November 25, 2020
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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials held its annual Transportation and Civil Engineering or TRAC National Bridge Challenge for middle and high school students in a virtual setting.

Originally scheduled to be held during AASHTO’s spring meeting in Kansas City, organizers re-invented the competition as the “AASHTO Virtual TRAC Showcase” because of COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions.

The National Bridge Challenge is part of the TRAC program that teaches secondary school students from 7th through 12th grade how to apply a variety of math and science concepts to common engineering problems occurring in the development of transportation systems, while the complementary Roadways In Developing Elementary Students​ or RIDES program is focused on Kindergarten through 6th grade students.

Both are educational outreach programs designed for use in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or STEM classes using hands-on activities such as model bridge-building introducing students to the “work world” of the transportation and civil engineering profession.

[Below is an overview of the 2019 National Bridge Challenge, held in Park City, Utah.]

Bentley Software, one of the sponsors of this yearly competition, partnered with AASHTO to host the “Virtual TRAC Showcase” on June 3.

While only 12 of the 18 teams competing in the original event could present their final projects in the online forum, it served as an “opportunity to recognize students for their hard work,” allowing them to present virtually their projects in front of parents, teachers, sponsors, state departments of transportation, and AASHTO members, explained Francois Valois, Bentley’s vice president for civil engineering.

“The role of civil engineers is critical to transportation infrastructure,” he explained in a statement. “The hands-on experience of the TRAC program introduces students to civil engineering concepts and processes and inspires them to imagine a future career in engineering.”

Each of the teams provided 10-minute online presentations via video conferencing, allowing them to demonstrate how they designed the bridges and built models of their designs with balsawood. Also, every member of the 12 teams received a certificate and gift card provided by the competition’s sponsors – Bentley Systems, Michael Baker International, and TopoDOT – to acknowledge the students for their outstanding work.

[Below is a behind-the-scenes look at the Maryland teams that made it to the finals of AASHTO’s 2020 TRAC national bridge competition.]

“America’s transportation industry has a huge demand for well-qualified civil engineers [and] TRAC’s goal is to get middle and high school students exposed to and excited about a career in civil engineering,” noted Linda Clifton, AASHTO’s TRAC program manager.

“We see TRAC as an investment in today’s youth, to ensure that America has the highly-skilled workforce it’s going to need for years to come,” she added.

editor@aashto.org

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