42 Teams Competed in the USF-Selmon Balsa Bridge Design Competition. Winners Announced

One thing Lee Roy Selmon asked of our agency when we sought to honor his legacy with naming our toll road, the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, was to find a way to help and mentor the young people at the University of South Florida. Our CEO, Joe Waggoner, and the team at THEA has been making good on this commitment through mentorship programs, developing the Selmon STEM Scholarship program, and in our support of the annual USF-SE Balsa Bridge Design Competition. 

The USF-Selmon  Balsa Bridge Design Competition began in the 1980s as a student-run project to connect the University to under-represented middle and high school students and provide a fun, extra-educational enrichment opportunity in STEM philosophies. An annual event, the design competition is part of the University of South Florida (USF) Engineering Expo and a partnership between the USF College of Engineering, the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA). 

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 have designed and built model bridges from balsa wood.  Working with an engineering mentor, they try to build the greatest load-bearing bridge. The competition then tests the load capacities of the bridges. 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. 

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.

Students participating in the competition learn the value of teamwork, planning, creativity and get hands-on experience in the fun side of engineering. They work alongside an engineer in the design phase and get to take their STEM learning out of the classroom.

The USF-SE Balsa Bridge Design Competition is one of our favorite events of the year. Winners of the USF-SE Bridge Design Competition receive a private engineer led tour of the Selmon Extension, giving them a behind-the-scenes experience of the $230 million construction project. Winners will also receive individual and school trophies.

This year’s winners are:

Middle School Category Winners (Pounds of Pressure Withstood):
1st Place: Mustang3 – Country Day School – 436 lbs of pressure
2nd Place: Mustang1 – Country Day School – 40 lbs of pressure
3rd Place: Underdogs – Cambridge Middle School – 391 lbs of pressure

High School Category Winners (Pounds of Pressure Withstood):
1st Place: Inventors – Gaither High School- 454 lbs of pressure
2nd Place: Okay Boomer – Newsome High School – 429 lbs of pressure
3rd Place: The Trebuchet Trio – East Bay High School – 132 lbs of pressure

A separate award, the Efficiency Award, was presented to the team whose bridge withstood the highest amount of pressure relative to the bridge’s total weight.

Efficiency Award: Inventors – Gaither High Scholl – 1,874%

See all the photos on our Facebook Photo Album

We thank all the students for participating and congratulate them on their excellent work. We’re already looking forward to next year’s competition!