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Bridge-building competition inspires future engineers

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SMITHFIELD — The Grifols Popsicle stick bridge-building and efficiency testing contest on April 11 inspired some Innovation Academy students to consider engineering careers.

The contest is part of Grifols’ commitment to education and strengthening its ties to the Johnston County community, according to a company video.

Students had four months to research, build and test their bridges before judging day. The winning bridge held the most load for the least amount of bridge weight.

Grifols said it’s hoping to foster studies in sciences and engineering in all students.

The Innovation Academy at South Campus is Johnston County’s laboratory school. The school approaches learning in creative and personalized ways.

There were 24 students on 13 teams from the academy who participated in the competition at the Johnston County Agricultural Center, along with competitors from Johnston Community College, high schools, middle schools and home-schooled students.

The bridges were built entirely with Popsicle sticks glued together.

“I gave them the specifications,” said seventh-grade science teacher Randy Parker. “The students bought their own supplies and did the teams worked as volunteers outside of class. There were all different kinds of designs.”

Parker said a Grifols official had a machine he used on each bridge to see how much force in pounds it could take before breaking.

Many of the contestants, Parker said, had participated in a similar competition last November.

“What excites me the most is that those who competed before used the same designs with improvements based on the first competition,” said Parker.

Seventh-grader Cameron Brewer said his earlier bridge withstood 95 pounds of pressure. He said he realized the bridge needed to be lighter, made adjustments and that his newest bridge withstood 146 pounds of pressure.

“It was fun for me, I like to do things hands-on, to build things,” said Cameron. “I wanted to do it as soon as I heard about it.”

Cameron was on the Sticks, Twigs and Pebbles team, along with seventh-graders Braxton Jackson and Cody Strong. Seventh-graders Charles Gsell, Michael Barefoot and John Hall were on the MC2 team.

One student, eighth-grader Nathan Oliver, won three awards for his solo project. He won first place for efficiency, second place for aesthetic and one award for beating an engineer from Grifols.

“There are a bunch of educational components in these projects,” said Parker. “This is hands-on, relevant and creative. These students learn about problem-solving and teamwork.”

“Last year, my bridge only held up to 37 pounds of pressure,” said Michael. “I saw others improve their bridges and that inspired me. This time, my bridge withstood 151 pounds. You should have seen my reaction.”

Two of the students, Cody and Braxton, said the bridge competition has helped them think about possible careers in engineering.

“I want to work in electrical engineering and developing software,” said Michael. “Not just computers.”

“I love dogs,” said Braxton. “I want to develop buildings and other things that would help them.”