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Bridge To The Future: The Freshman Capstone Design Bridge Project At Union College

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.109.1 - 4.109.15

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Paper Authors

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F. Andrew Wolfe

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Christine M. LaPlante

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3253

Bridge to the Future: the Freshmen Capstone Design Bridge Project at Union College

F. Andrew Wolfe, Christine C. Laplante Department of Civil Engineering, Union College

I. Introduction

Union College is a small, 2000 student, undergraduate liberal arts and engineering college located in Schenectady, NY. The Engineering Division with an enrollment of approximately 400 students consists of four departments: civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. In 1995, Union College was awarded a grant from General Electric to revise the freshmen and sophomore curriculums to provide a common engineering background for all engineering students. The freshmen year was redesigned to give students an overview of the different engineering and science disciplines and a computer language. The first trimester focused on giving the students a knowledge of engines and foundations. The second trimester was broken into six modules: C++, computer systems engineering, circuits, instrumentation, engines, and statics. With this background the students were then asked to chose a Capstone Design Project from three alternatives. The three projects were: build a steam engine, build and instrument a weather station, or design and build a truss bridge. Thirty-four students, approximately half the freshmen engineering class, chose to design and build a truss bridge. The bridge was to be donated to the City of Schenectady and erected in Vale Park as part of a trail system.

This paper explores the teaching process used to provide the students with the necessary knowledge to design and build a thirty foot truss bridge.

II. Course Overview

Union College operates on the trimester system. This gave the class 10 weeks to learn about trusses, design a truss, and then build and erect it on site. The course was divided into three parts. The first four weeks were used for teaching and labs. The next two weeks were used for design and model building culminating in a presentation before the Vale Park Task Force. The last four weeks were designated for building the bridge which included footings and site work on the trails.

A. Lectures

Lectures were held for two hours once a week. During lecture we concentrated on developing a design methodology which the students could use in designing a bridge. The lectures were team taught with each professor responsible for a part of each lecture. During lectures it was common

Wolfe, F. A., & LaPlante, C. M. (1999, June), Bridge To The Future: The Freshman Capstone Design Bridge Project At Union College Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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