The challenge for Natomas High Nighthawk engineering students Eric Zizumbo, Carlos Rocha and Jesus Venegas was to build a balsa wood bridge that is arched and weighs little but carries a lot of weight to qualify for the 2017 California Bridge Building Competition.
Along the way, the Nighthawk team had to use computer software to design their bridge, submit scaled design drawings and data tables, and explain scientific principles behind their design, challenges encountered, solutions reached, and lessons learned. Recently, the three-student Natomas High team was selected as one of three finalists to make a verbal presentation and have its entry judged and tested Jan. 28 before a panel of industry professionals.
They aced it! The Nighthawks finished first, taking home $500 apiece in the competition by the PREP Foundation, a non-profit group promoting science, technology, engineering and math.
Kim Knestrick, Natomas High engineering teacher, said lessons learned by the three 11th-graders in this bridge building competition and in Nighthawk engineering classes range from problem solving to how trusses are made and how structures are affected by compression forces and tension forces. All will serve Zizumbo, Rocha and Venegas well in college, she said.
“This is civil engineering,” Knestrick said. “This is how they get started. They’ll do the exact same thing at college. … This was a huge learning experience.”
Both Zizumbo and Venegas hope to be professional engineers someday.
“That’s the career I’ve liked since I was little,” Venegas said. “When I was little, I liked playing with Legos and all that. It’s interesting to me.”
The California Bridge Building Competition wasn’t easy for the Nighthawk team, Knestrick said, noting that creating the balsa wood bridge’s arch was particularly difficult and “there were a lot of broken sticks, from this team and every other team that did it.” But Zizumbo, Rocha and Venegas persevered, she said.
For more than a week leading up to the Jan. 28 finals, the three Nighthawk students were spending three hours a day getting ready, Knestrick said.
All three Nighthawks plan to get college degrees once they leave Natomas High. Venegas hopes to attend UC Davis, Rocha is leaning toward Sacramento State University, and Zizumbo is undecided but wants to attend college in the Sacramento area. The trio have become close friends through the NHS engineering program.
Natomas High’s Engineering Pathways program, led by Knestrick, is consistent with NUSD’s Board-approved Vision that, “All NUSD students graduate as college and career ready, productive, responsible, and engaged global citizens.”