Four Tupelo bridge-building teams will travel to nationals

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – For the next month, a group of 12 students from Tupelo Middle and Tupelo High schools will be talking about building bridges.
The students are preparing to compete in the National Bridge Building Finals, to be held in Traverse City, Mich., on May 18.
They have already constructed their balsa wood structures, which will be tested during the competition to see how much weight they can hold. Now, they must write an oral presentation to recite to a team of judges during the competition.
The presentation, which describes the process they used to design and build their bridge, accounts for a portion of their final score.
“We are running over our speech and presentation,” said eighth-grader Jenny Bobo. “We will do that repeatedly.”
Nine teams from across the country will compete in Michigan – three teams in each of three age divisions. Tupelo is sending four – two of the three teams in the middle school class and two of the three in the ninth- and 10th-grade division.
Jenny Bobo, Rachel Bobo and Katerina Kushla make up one TMS team, and James Grant, Ricardo Ungo and Alex Hart are the other. One THS team features Maddie Arancibia, Kimya Jamasbi and Christopher Wright, while the other has Nick Kaltchenko, Xen Gaerlen and Penelope Dao.
The students made the bridges in December after researching bridges and geometry to determine the best shapes. Teams submitted an extensive paper detailing their bridge and its construction in order to qualify for nationals.
Eighty-eight teams expressed interest in the competition and 44 applied before the top three in each division were chosen.
“Triangles are the strongest shape in geometry,” Ricardo said about his group’s bridge. “We put as many as we could without making it too big.”
It was a similar theme echoed by each of the teams. Triangles are key to success, so are arches.
“On a triangle, each side supports one another,” Penelope said. “An arc is equal force all the way around.”
Kimya said her team also spent time researching various angles to determine which ones were stronger.
Her team brings experience into this year’s event. Maddie and Christopher were on the TMS team that won the national competition last year.
“You have to go with whatever happens,” Maddie said when asked about what she has learned from that experience. “Things get thrown at you. It was nerve-wracking while we were presenting and afterwards.”
The group didn’t use the same bridge from last year, but it did use that one as a guide.
“We went off what we knew from last year,” Maddie said. “Last year, we researched different kinds of bridges, famous bridges, structures. We went off of that.”
Rachel Bobo said her team build its bridge by trial and error. Each student designed her own bridge and then they combined those ideas into one bridge.
The students used different computer programs that help them to gauge the strength of their design.
Tupelo Middle School teachers Julia Smith and Connie Gusmus are the four teams’ sponsors, and TMS teacher Holly Bailey is also helping.
The middle school students built their bridges in Smith’s excel technology class, which teaches science, technology, engineering and math.
The high school students participated as an extra-curricular team, building their bridges and making their presentations in their own time. THS math teacher Pam Cockrell helped one team, while parents Vafa Jamasbi and Lori Grelen spearheaded the other as part of their project for Parents for Public Schools.
Mississippi Department of Transportation engineer Matt Dunn also helped the teams.
Although the high school students worked on their own time, they said the experience was worthwhile.
“Doing this affects our whole future,” Xen said. “You can put this on your resume, get into college, get a good job.”
“And it’s fun,” Penelope said. “You spend time with your two teammates and get to know each other.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com