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A Scavenger Hunt to Connect the As-Built World to Structural Engineering Theory

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Developing Infrastructure Professionals

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Matthew K Swenty P.E. Virginia Military Institute

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Matthew (Matt) Swenty obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Civil Engineering from Missouri S&T then worked as a bridge designer at the Missouri Department of Transportation before obtaining his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech. He worked at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McClean, Virginia focusing on concrete bridge research prior to joining the faculty at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). He teaches engineering mechanics and structural engineering courses, enjoys working with the students on undergraduate research projects, and has research interests in concrete bridges, materials, and engineering education.

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Kacie Caple D'Alessandro Washington & Lee University

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Kacie Caple D'Alessandro obtained her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering at Clemson University before obtaining her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech. Kacie is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering at Washington and Lee University. She teaches engineering mechanics, engineering design, and materials science courses at W&L, and her research interests include ultra-high performance concrete, concrete structures, and engineering education.

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Ben Dymond California State University, Sacramento Orcid 16x16

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Ben Dymond obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech before obtaining his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Ben is currently a design engineer with KPFF in Sacramento, CA as well as a part-time faculty member in the Department of Civil Engineering at California State University, Sacramento where he teaches theory of structures.

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Many students enter the Civil Engineering field because of an interest in famous engineered structures. Although they may be familiar with these structures in name, they have difficulty connecting the concepts from their course work with the structural components from these fascinating structures. In order to help alleviate this problem, a new assignment based on a scavenger hunt was created for an introductory Structural Analysis course. The assignment was administered to encourage students to apply their knowledge to the world around them and observe the relevance of their education. Once students identify unique structures demonstrating specific features, they must try to use basic free body diagrams, loading concepts, and statics principles to estimate how a structure carries load and what types of loads may be applied.

In addition to analyzing the written and oral submissions, a survey was developed to determine gains made after participating in the assignment. Feedback was obtained from surveys administered before and after the activity. The surveys inquired about the following topics: examples of structures in the student’s world, load types and magnitudes applied to structures, and application of their knowledge to these real world structures.

The initial survey responses confirm the perception of many professors and employers. The students struggled to connect real world structural examples with their knowledge base. Results from the initial and final surveys and the scavenger hunt assignment indicate that students make gains in knowledge with this activity. The students became more capable of using terminology to describe structural features such as fixed versus roller connections; applying environmental, dead, and live loads; computing structural determinacy; and describing structural function with free body diagrams. The responses show that it is possible to use a simple assignment based on real world structures within an established class to help students span the knowledge gap between the academic and as-built world. The implementation and collection of results is ongoing, but positive trends have been observed and the scavenger hunt assignment is being implemented at additional universities in Statics and Structural Analysis classes.

Swenty, M. K., & D'Alessandro, K. C., & Dymond, B. (2016, June), A Scavenger Hunt to Connect the As-Built World to Structural Engineering Theory Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26436

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