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Engineering A Nationwide Engineering Design Contest

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Web-Based Education

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.547.1 - 11.547.16



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Paper Authors


Eugene Ressler U.S. Military Academy

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COL Eugene Ressler is Professor and Deputy Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the U.S. Military Academy. He teaches computer science and has also served as the Academy’s Associate Dean for Information and Educational Technology. He is a recipient of the AAES Norman Augustine Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Communications.

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Stephen Ressler U.S. Military Academy

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Colonel Stephen J. Ressler, P.E., is Professor and Vice Dean for Education at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY. He earned a B.S. degree from USMA in 1979 and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University in 1989 and 1991. He is a past Chairman of the ASEE CE Division and is a recipient of the ASEE Mid-Atlantic Section Distinguished Educator Award, the Premier Award for Excellence in Engineering Education Courseware, and the EDUCOM Medal for application of information technology in education.

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Catherine Bale U.S. Military Academy

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Catherine Bale is an adjunct professor at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. She teaches English and Communications classes and has coordinated the West Point Bridge Design Contest since 1997.

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

Engineering a Nationwide Engineering Design Contest


This paper concerns problems solved and lessons learned while conducting the West Point Bridge Design Contest,1 with a focus on the design of technology support and operations behind the scenes. The contest is a nationwide, Internet-based competition for teams of one or two students, age 13 through grade 12, culminating in a final round with large cash prizes. In 2006 the contest is in its fifth year. We have previously reported it as a means of engineering outreach.2 This work, on the other hand, is technical, concerning the engineering behind the contest that allows it to be run by a half-time administrator and two college faculty members working in their spare time. The design has successfully dealt with challenges including large service demand fluctuations, tied contest entries, participation by ineligible persons “masquerading” as true contestants, hackers, an extortionist, hardware failure, Internet outages, an artificially intelligent bridge optimizer, and other interesting tribulations, all of which were managed without mishap. Hence the goal of this paper is to pass on information useful to anyone contemplating related work, where similar occurrences are likely.


The intent of this paper is to document our experience in designing and operating the West Point Bridge Design Contest (WPBDC), a nationwide Internet-based competition that has involved some 70,000 K-12 students over a five-year period. Careful design of the contest rules, the supporting technology, and the roles of support personnel has produced an effective and efficient operation. The original goals for the contest have been met. Moreover, two college faculty members working in their spare time plus a half-time coordinator have administered the contest with only modest additional institutional support and no serious mishap. Accordingly, we will discuss our design methodology, some particular design solutions, and the roles of support personnel that have evolved over time. While these are necessarily tailored to the unique goals and constraints of the WPBDC, many are likely to transfer well and therefore to benefit other, related efforts. We also provide some anecdotes to give the flavor of unexpected challenges that inevitably arose during contest operations and how the contest’s design allowed them to be met.

The overarching goal of the WPBDC is to increase awareness of and interest in engineering among a large, diverse population of middle and high school students. As described in our earlier work,2 its motivation is to attract young students of the United States to careers in engineering, math, and science in order to mitigate projected national shortfalls in the future. This leads to more specific goals, which are that each contestant should: • Learn about engineering through a realistic, hands-on problem-solving experience. • Learn about the engineering design process—the application of math, science, and technology to create devices and systems that meet human needs. • Learn about truss bridges and how they work. • Learn how engineers use the computer as a problem-solving tool. • Have some fun pitting individual problem-solving skills against those of other virtual bridge designers worldwide.

Ressler, E., & Ressler, S., & Bale, C. (2006, June), Engineering A Nationwide Engineering Design Contest Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1392

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015