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The School of Civil Engineering received a Project Award from the institution of Civil Engineers (ICE last month for an outstanding example of a civil engineering engagement project. The winners were announced at a prestigious Awards Dinner at the Birmingham ICC on Thursday 21 May 2015.

The University and partners, Interserve, a UK based multinational support service and construction company, were awarded joint first in the Education category for a collaborative project titled ‘Bridging the gap’ an interactive activity to inspire school children and develop knowledge and understanding of simple civil engineering concepts.

The project involves the construction of a 15m-long cable stayed bridge based on designs initially obtained from ICE. The bridge is the centrepiece of an outreach activity comprising of an idealised construction site where Health and Safety considerations are embedded from the outset. The bridge is formed of components which connect together by hand and with minimal tools, meaning it can be assembled by children as young as seven years old (Key Stage 2), up to adults, with varying difficulty and challenges.

The partnership has resulted in a cost-effective, flyable and, above all, enjoyable activity appropriate for a wide range of audiences. The key aspects of the project include an appreciation of:

  • bridge design
  • construction sequences
  • team working and the achievement of building and using a structure
  • importance of Health and Safety

While launched for use by the University of Birmingham and ICE, the bridge has recently been made available to the West Midlands Institution of Civil Engineers and has been used extensively across the region and beyond for university teaching purposes, at Big Bang fairs, Scouting and community events and University open days - it has even travelled as far as York. It is estimated that over 6000 people have experienced it. The team expects to exceed this number in 2015.

While the primary purpose of the project is outreach, to encourage civil engineering study and to provide a flavour of what this discipline entails, unforeseen, positive impacts have included teaching opportunities for undergraduate students, e.g. design-for-construction and a working demonstration of issues such as resolving forces throughout a design/construction sequence. Furthermore, supervisors and participants must work together to construct the bridge in a safe and effective way, which teaches and embeds the need for clear communications, planning and teamworking: those all-important soft skills.

Particularly encouraging is the number of girls who have benefited and the positive comments towards University of Birmingham and civil engineering study. All participants in summer 2014 Engineering Taster and Girls in STEM days, reported it as good, with over half saying it was the most enjoyable part of the day, one girl commented:

My favourite part was the bridge building as it was fun to construct something and test it. I’m more likely to go to university to study STEM now.

Recent alumna, Jessica Marsh was also recognised as a rising star and was awarded the “emerging engineers” award at the ceremony.