George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Engineering students build friendships while designing, constructing hikers’ bridge

August 20, 2018   /   by Nanci Hellmich

“We worked around rain, heat, and people’s availability on weekends to construct the bridge.”

Jack Scherer, mechanical engineering senior

Engineers for International Development designed and built a bridge for hikers in Toms Creek, Virginia, this summer. The group does one international project each year and a couple projects closer to home.

For a group of Mason Engineering students, this summer was all about building bridges.

About 20 members of Mason’s Engineers for International Development (EfID) designed and built a wooden bridge over a stream near a Civil War battlefield in Toms Brook, Virginia, about 70 miles west of the Fairfax Campus.

While they worked, they also strengthened their bonds. “We went into the project as good friends and came out as great friends," says Andrew Simpson, a civil engineering major. "We have a team of people who respect each other as individuals and also as engineers.”

“We worked around rain, heat, and people’s availability on weekends to construct the bridge,” says project manager Jack Scherer, a mechanical engineering senior.

Every year EfID does one international project and a couple projects closer to home. The students wanted to build a bridge, so the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club told them about the need for one along the Tuscarora Trail.

The students honed the skills they’d learned in their engineering classes throughout the project. During the planning stages, civil engineering senior Min Lu Kelly-Durham consulted with David Lattanzi, a licensed bridge engineer and assistant professor of civil, environmental, and infrastructure engineering.

After the students did numerous hand calculations, Kelly-Durham used RISA-3D, a structural engineering software program, to make sure the structure would be safe and strong.

Then Omar Azizi, a civil engineering senior, had several professional engineers critique the plans and give the students feedback. “Every time we talked to someone, our design would get a little better,” he says.

Their advisor Matt Doyle, an engineer and adjunct faculty member, also reviewed the design, went with members to survey the site, and helped build the foundation and the structure, Azizi says.

The bridge, which is made of pressure-treated wood, is about 32 feet long and 42 inches wide and six feet above the stream. The group bought the wood and other materials using money from grants, donations, and fund-raising activities.

Students worked on weekends, sometimes scrambling to go to the site at the last minute when the weather was better than predicted. “Building the actual bridge was a lot of manual labor, but it was fun to work together with your friends,” Scherer says.

The group heads back to Toms Brook in September to clear and mark trails. The experience offered lots of lessons. “There are some things you learn when you are put to the test in real life,” Azizi says. “You have to adjust and think on your feet. Hopefully, the bridge will be there for 100 years or more, and it will be used by thousands of people.”

Simpson says one of the best parts of the projects is “we built relationships with one another and other engineering professionals that are going to last a lifetime."

"Hopefully, the bridge will be there for 100 years or more, and it will be used by thousands of people.”

Omar Azizi, civil engineeing major

Engineers for International Development designed and built a bridge in Toms Creek, Virginia, this summer.

Engineering students worked on the bridge on weekends, sometimes scrambling to go to the site at the last minute when the weather was better than predicted.

Expertise