Published: June 6, 2017

WITH REAL-WORLD PROJECTS 

WHEN A TORRENT OF WATER RIPPED DOWN BOULDER CREEK in September 2013 during historic flooding, a pedestrian bridge connecting the Boulder Creek Path with Folsom Field was one of the casualties.

For 50 civil engineering students, the bridge’s loss became an educational opportunity. During the 2014 fall semester, they took their education out of the classroom and down to the creek, where, for their civil engineering capstone project, they worked to design a replacement.

The annual civil engineering capstone project allows students to integrate and apply the theory and skills they’ve learned in their courses by working on realistic, immersive design projects.

The challenge for the pedestrian bridge project was not only to design a bridge to serve as a formal gateway to the north side of campus that accommodates daily use, game-day and special event traffic, but also to integrate it aesthetically into the design of the new athletic complex expansion currently underway.

Students were divided into 10 teams of five students each. The teams included students from each of several civil engineering’s specialties: structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, water resources, and construction engineering and management.

Julia Carroll (CivEngr ’14), from Lyons, Colorado, and Rob Sparks (CivEngr ’15), from Cañon City, Colorado, were both on the South Paw Engineering Team. Carroll’s emphasis was construction engineering and management, while Sparks brought a structural engineering emphasis.

“This project was exciting,” says Carroll, “because it gave us the opportunity to combine concepts from all of our course work, to think creatively and design a structure that has the potential to be built

on our very own campus. We’re using skills learned in class to arrive at a solution for each component of the bridge.”

The students’ clients were the university and the design-build firms working on the athletic complex expansion—Populous Architects and Mortenson Construction.

Client-based projects are an integral part of the education at the College of Engineering and Applied Science, according to Matt Morris (CivEngr ’99, MS ’02), who serves as the course coordinator for the civil engineering capstone project.

“The purpose of this course is to integrate all the different civil engineering disciplines into one project,” says Morris. “The senior capstone project goes beyond just doing the engineering design, however. It gets into presentation skills and working as a team, which help prepare students for real-world projects.”

Students met with Mortenson, Populous and the campus landscape architect multiple times at the site of the proposed bridge to ensure continuity of design and function with the athletic complex expansion. All of the designs were judged at the end of the fall semester. The winning design will be used as a basis for final design and construction of the new pedestrian bridge when funding is available.

“A final design like this involves providing solutions to dozens of problems and looking at details that include every weld, every connection,” says Sparks. “There’s a chance you might make a mistake at each step, so it’s not enough to have a good design. You have to be certain it’s right, regardless of complexity.”

AND THE WINNERS IS...

BMC Construction team

  • BMC CONSTRUCTION (FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: MATT WORTHINGTON, ROB WOLFF, CORY WAGNER, JOSHUA HILL)
     
  • TEAM WAS CHOSEN FOR OVERALL SOLUTION 
     
  • DESIGN, COST, SCHEDULE, REALISTIC APPROAC, MINIMAL IMPACT TO THE ENVIRONMENT, AND TEAM WORK WERE DECIDING FACTORS
     
  • THE STUDENTS DESIGN WILL BE USE AS A BASIS FOR CU-BOULDER TO SOLICIT A PROFESSIONAL DESIGN TEAM