Creating an interest in civil engineering


It's an oldie but definitely a goodie – the bridge building competition for secondary students is a good introduction to engineering. NMIT's inaugural competition, held during an Engineering Week linked to the Make the World campaign, also attracted interest from mall visitors.

Engineering Week

Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s (NMIT) Engineering Week aimed to promote engineering and particularly the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (Civil). It included a field trip for secondary school students and a similar trip for local secondary school teachers to visit a construction site, followed by an information evening at NMIT showcasing careers in civil engineering.

The bridge building competition was held on a Saturday at the Richmond mall in order to draw in passers-by, and showcase civil engineering to a wider audience.  The bridge weigh-in and bridge aesthetic judging took place on the Tuesday evening before the competition (judged by a local architect and structural engineer). The Make the World magazine was distributed at every event during the week.

See the Make the World website

16 teams on the day

NMIT gave 26 bridge building kits to 5 local schools, with 16 teams of three (including two teams of teachers) competing on the day. Following a welcome from the IPENZ Nelson-Marlborough Branch, the bridges were tested. “The best part of the day was hearing the crack of a breaking bridge and the in drawing of breath by the watching crowds,” says Debbie Hogan, NMIT civil engineering coordinator and tutor.

Talking to the public about engineering

Photo: winning team

IPENZ Branch Chair Avik Halder says the competition definitely captured people’s imaginations, “It was great having so many curious people coming up to ask questions about the event. They were genuinely interested – who knows what sparks may have been lit!” The Branch donated an impressive bridge trophy for the overall winning school.

The scores of the winning teams were close, with Nelson College taking out first and third place and Nelson Girls’ College second. The most aesthetic bridge was won by Nelson Girls’ College. The trophy was awarded to Nelson College as the overall winning school.

Running the competition again

Photo: trophy

The bridge building competition provided a good platform for engaging with secondary school students and the wider public to raise awareness of pathways into civil engineering. It is planned to make the competition an annual event.  Debbie advises anyone running a similar event to confirm all dates with schools early in the year, to avoid clashes with other activities. Some teams couldn’t make the weigh-in evening event held the Tuesday before the testing due to other commitments.

Debbie says that the competition was well supported by the local civil engineering industry who provided $800 worth of prize money, and adds that she’d be delighted to have a national competition. In the meantime, she’s happy to share her planning and rules with anyone else interested in doing a similar thing.

Our thanks to Debbie for her time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

September 2016