A CEE Senior Design group of six students spent the past semester designing a bridge for a rural faith-based organization in Clay County, Kentucky, and went on to win 2nd place in the College of Engineering Design Division at UT’s Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (EUReCA) competition. The competition is an annual event that showcases research and creative activities by undergraduate students in an effort to encourage, support, and reward undergraduate participation in academic research.
The Appalachia Community Health and Disaster Readiness Project, a three-year grant funded project supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (UD7HP26205), provides the opportunity for these Senior Design students to make a difference for residents in Clay County. This county is one of the poorest counties in the U.S., and many residents lack adequate access to clean water, health care, food, education and safe housing. The New York Times even called it the “the hardest place in America to live.”
The project, which gained funding in 2013, effectively provides opportunities for The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The College of Nursing, The School of Art and Architecture, and the Law Enforcement Innovation Center to collaborate on community solutions and experience hands-on learning. Teams work in partnership with the Clay County Emergency Management Services (CCEMS) and Red Bird Mission, a ministry helping rural Appalachians since 1921 to solve community problems. The portion of the project that utilizes the help of CEE and Art and Architecture students was designated for a bridge design concept to solve an infrastructure problem on Red Bird Mission, Inc. property. The area is prone to flooding, and the current bridge is the only one available to access the property.
“Coming together as an inter-professional team, we have been able to use our knowledge, skill, and specialized expertise to engage each other as well as the community to identify and solve critical problems that are contributing to disaster vulnerability,” says Lisa Davenport, ACHDR Project Director. “A bridge design, though theoretical at this point, will ultimately provide the community a fundamental resource that can now be used to advocate for funding of additional infrastructure vital to improving accessibility and egress.”
The first five weeks of the project were spent meeting weekly with Art and Architecture and Nursing faculty and students to look at the physical layout of school property and do precedence studies that would help them design a bridge that was not just structurally sound, but also one that would fit the history and feel of the community situated in what’s known as “The Land of Swinging Bridges.” The interdisciplinary approach challenged the team to think outside the box with their bridge designs and incorporate what they had learned to come up with three bridge designs.
Once the three designs were complete and presented to numerous people on the project, then they were presented to Red Bird Mission and CCEMS for further evaluation. Pros and cons of each bridge were discussed, and with the feedback a new bridge design concept was adopted. The final is a combination of the original three bridge designs.
Aaron Sheppard is working as a project manager to help ensure that the project is a success. “As an aspiring engineer, there is no greater honor than using our knowledge to better the lives of others around us,” he says. He notes that teamwork, communication and time management are important lessons they are learning while utilizing all of the of the group’s skills within four areas of civil engineering: geotech, structures, water resources, and construction.
Other members of the team each has their own responsibilities. Matthew McCarter, is responsible for the geotechnical aspects of the project. This involves collecting soil samples from the site and performing laboratory tests to obtain information about the soils where the bridge will stand. Cody Stephens is in charge of the structural design of the bridge, which has entailed using RISA-3D software. While the software is a necessary tool, he must still perform hand calculations in order to validate the software’s results. Alex Kiser is in charge of turning Cody’s design ideas into reality by tweaking the design to reduce materials and increase constructability. He’s also responsible for producing the final design drawings in AutoCad, which include everything from a site grading plan to detailed drawings of the member connections. Colin Szklarski is in charge of the river modeling for the project, which incorporates the topography of the existing stream and floodplain and is used by the design team to review potential scour at the bridge foundations and abutments. The model is not just a benefit for the bridge project design, but could also aid in many other projects that will be taking place in the adjacent area. Finally, Trevor Cloar’s job is to identify the construction equipment needs for the project, which is a challenge considering the remote location, harsh climate and poor soil quality in the area. He’s also in charge of cost estimating so that the leadership at Red Bird Mission will have a detailed estimate at the end of this project.
All of the members of the team have expressed that the project has helped them grow in some way. “As engineers, we’re exposed to another side of thinking that we had to adapt to,” says Cloar. “I also believe I became a better engineering student afterwards.”
Szklarski said that in addition to having the opportunity to see a new perspective of design and creativity, the team gained a sense of purpose. “We saw how major projects like the Appalachian Community Health and Disaster Readiness grant can empower such a diverse group of people to work together toward a common goal,” he says.
“All in all, this senior design project has provided us with the most realistic exposure to an engineering project possible, and we all walk away with a deeper understanding of an engineer’s role within the community,” adds Kiser.
“This semester has been a great example of a senior design project that allows students to spend a portion of the time in discussions outside the norm – with architecture students studying design, experience in a built space, and awareness of elements of surrounding infrastructure,” says senior design instructor, Dr. Jenny Retherford. “We’re not designing a bridge, we’re designing a connection between spaces that enhances the experience of a walk home from school for many students in rural Clay County, Kentucky. The experience is a social experience that is great for civil engineering students.”
“The Appalachia Community Health & Disaster Readiness project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under UD7HP26205 and Nurse Education, Practice, Quality, and Retention Inter-professional Collaborative Practice grant. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.”