Top 3 Reasons to Go to the USF-Selmon Balsa Bridge Design Competition

It’s almost time for our favorite event of the year, the USF-Selmon Balsa Bridge Design Competition. An annual event, the competition is hosted by USF’s College of Engineering and sponsored by THEA at USF’s Engineering Expo. The competition is open to all High School and Middle School students in the Tampa Bay area.

The competition consists of teams of three middle or high school students who design and build model bridges from balsa wood. The bridges are put under simulated load tests until the balsa wood cracks beneath the weight. Bridges are judged on craftsmanship, originality, design drawing and most importantly, load capacity.

If you’ve never been to the Balsa Bridge Design Competition or Engineering Expo before, you should definitely check it out! Below are our top 3 reasons to attend:

Mentorship and Teamwork

The one thing that Lee Roy Selmon asked of the Expressway Authority was to find a way to help and mentor the young people at the University of South Florida.  To that end, we created the Selmon STEM Scholarship program (S3). Each year, we give book scholarships to Engineering students at USF. To advance Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S.T.E.M) education, we provide materials for and sponsor middle and high school student exhibitions in the USF Engineering Expo and sponsor the Bridge Building Competition. We also offer paid internship opportunities for juniors and seniors majoring in engineering. These internship opportunities increase their educational opportunities and provide invaluable exposure to transportation careers.

At the competition, teams of students must work together to design and build their model bridges. They use their collective strengths and pull on the S.T.E.M. principles while also having fun. Working with an engineering mentor, they try to build the greatest load-bearing bridge. The competition allows students to focus on a S.T.E.M project and work alongside an Engineer, hopefully sparking their interest for a future career.

Family-Fun Event

USF’s Engineering Expo – the longest standing event at USF – is a free, family-friendly event featuring interactive, hands-on exhibits and shows. The goal of the Expo is to introduce, inspire, and enrich the community in S.T.E.M related studies, show young students the fun side of science and mathematics, and encourage more students to pursue fields in S.T.E.M studies. At the Expo, K-12 students have a unique opportunity to meet and talk with Tampa Bay’s local engineers and engineering student organizations at USF.  USF Engineering students are also able to exhibit innovative student research, build rapport with faculty, community professionals, and engage in community outreach. It is a well-attended and fun event for people of all ages.

School Bragging Rights

The winning schools in each category are given a traveling trophy to display, with members of the teams receiving individual trophies. The winners are also shown some love on our website and social media. But, the real takeaway from the competition is the teamwork, camaraderie, and friendly competition among the students. They are focused, proud, and excited to unveil their bridges and test their capacity. They can show off their creativity, craftsmanship, and engineering skills while creating memories and friendships.

We can’t wait for the USF-Selmon Balsa Bridge Design Competition. It provides us the opportunity to show young people the value of teamwork, planning, and creativity through a fun, hands-on experience and shows off the fun side of engineering to the communities we serve. For more information on the event or to register a team, visit: