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Representatives from Aurecon and the NZ Transport Agency present the all-round winners cheque to a team member from Diocesan School for Girls

Aurecon challenges STEM students to build bridges to the future

The future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in New Zealand is looking bright, says Aurecon, after high school students from around the country participated in its annual bridge building competition in August.

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The competition, which is now in its 16th year, challenges Year 9 and 10 students to design and build a model bridge out of balsa wood, cardboard, string and glue. Prizes are awarded to the teams with the most innovative, efficient and strong bridge designs.

“The number of students in STEM subjects has been falling, which is a real concern,” says William Cox, Aurecon managing director (Australia & New Zealand). “Fostering a passion for engineering in young people is crucial for the wellbeing and development of future generations – the skills and creative thinking of these students will quite literally change the world – so we started this competition as a fun and challenging way to engage students.”

To reflect the increasing role that virtual/online environments and programs play in engineering, Aurecon also added a digital component to the competition this year. Teams used the SketchUp computer program to design a digital bridge. The winning team received a 3D-printed Nüdel model of their bridge design.

Diversity of thought

Growing diversity in the engineering profession was reflected in the winning teams. Diocesan School for Girls was the overall winner in the Auckland competition for the second year running, while co-educational Hagley College took home the top prize in Wellington.

Teacher in charge of physics at Dio, Rob Boasman, says that the number of girls taking physics at Dio is increasing and the competition is important for female students to see STEM as a valid career for them. 

“Through participating in this competition, students come away inspired by engineering and motivated to pursue science as a career pathway,” Mr Boasman says.

Fewer than a third of engineering jobs in New Zealand are currently held by women, which Mr Cox says has a negative impact on the diversity of thought in the profession. “It is really encouraging to see bright young women – future engineers – giving their male counterparts a run for their money.”

About the competition

The Aurecon bridge building competition started 16 years ago in Victoria, Australia, and has expanded over the years. The competition was initiated to provide a fun and challenging environment for students to grow their skills in teamwork, creative thinking and innovation.

This year, over 1000 students from over 300 teams in schools located across Australia and New Zealand registered and took part in the competition. Most schools held internal bridge building contests to decide which student team(s) would go on to represent their school at the Aurecon event. 

Each team of three students was issued with materials and guidelines by Aurecon to design and build their bridge, comprising balsa wood sticks, a cardboard tube, one tube of quick drying epoxy glue, and a 5 m length of string.

Bridge experts from Aurecon and other organisations in the industry were appointed as judges to assess each bridge for workmanship, creativity, visual appeal and functionality, which determined an overall score.


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