Tupelo Middle students win national building competition

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A team of three eighth-graders from Tupelo Middle School left for Las Vegas on Monday and returned home as national champions.
Maddie Arancibia, Christopher Wright and William Bell captured the national bridge building competition at the annual meeting of the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials.
The three students were judged on a lift bridge they built at school from popsicle sticks and balsa wood. At the competition, they had to explain their bridge’s design and construction to a panel of judges made up of top transportation engineers from across the nation. They also had to see how much weight the bridge could hold. Tupelo’s team took first place in both categories.
By virtue of their win, the students each received $500 savings bonds. Each said they planned to use the money for college.
“I am very proud of my students,” said Tupelo Middle School seventh-grade math teacher Connie Gusmus, who co-sponsored the team with excel technology teacher Julia Smith. “They put in a lot of hard work, and I’m glad they could have this real-world experience.”
To qualify for the national competition, the three students had to submit a 35-page portfolio about their bridge to AASHTO. Sixty-two teams entered, and three were invited to Las Vegas. While there, the students were able to meet with head engineers from Departments of Transportation of many different states.
“I learned about building bridges and how designing them right could help them to be stronger,” William said. “It doesn’t matter how big it is; it is how they are structured.”
The Golden Wave Bridge Builders’ entry weighed 46 grams and held 72 pounds, or 710 times its own weight.
“We wanted to do an arch design because the weight was evenly distributed on all sides,” Maddie said. “We wanted to use a lot of triangles because that is the strongest shape for building.”
Teams from Tupelo Middle School have placed in the bridge building competition before. Having heard about the contest, Maddie, William and Christopher told Gusmus of their interest in competing this year and did much of their work outside of school hours.
“It seemed like it interested me,” Christopher said of why he decided to enter the contest. “Engineering was something I was interested in doing, so I thought I’d give it a try and see if I liked it.”
Three teams from Tupelo Middle School built bridges, but only one was selected for the national contest.
“We are so proud of how well they performed nationally,” said TMS Assistant Principal Kristy Luse, who will become the school’s principal in July.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.