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Oregon Tech’s steel bridge team finishes first in national competition

Courtesy photo PIT steel bridge team finished in first place of the supplemental competition last month at the American Institute of Construction’s competition.

It’s not often that a small school like the Oregon Institute of Technology competes on the same stage as schools like the University of Alabama, George Washington University and UC Berkeley.

But in the American Institute of Steel Construction’s national student steel bridge competition last month, OIT not only competed with those schools, finishing 10th out of 25 in the main competition, but it won the supplemental competition.

“We’re able to compete toe-to-toe against them,” co-captain of the steel bridge team Grant Banister said. “Which is cool because how often do you get to see an Oregon Tech team go up against one of those schools?”

Banister, a civil engineering graduate student at OIT, has been a part of the team for five years, since his freshman year, during which the team has been steadily improving, going from not making it out of the regional competition to consistently making nationals.

The turning point for the team came in 2017, when C.J. Riley, the steel bridge team’s faculty advisor and professor at OIT, Banister and other members of the team went to watch the nationals competition at Oregon State University.

“We didn't qualify for nationals that year, but it was a great opportunity for students to get a feel for what the competition was like at that level and see nationals bridges,” Riley said. “I think it lit the fire in them to compete at that level.”

Although the results were released last week, the process began last summer when the rules were released and teams got to work designing, fabricating and constructing a 20-foot-long bridge that could support 2,500 pounds.

If this were a normal year, OIT would have been one of more than 30 colleges and universities to travel to whichever university was hosting nationals. But due to the pandemic, this year's competition was held virtually.

The American Institute of Steel Construction added a supplemental competition in addition to the main national finals, so schools that didn’t have access to their labs because of COVID-19 could still compete in some form. The winner would be guaranteed a bid to next year's nationals.

Originally, OIT wasn’t going to compete in the supplemental competition because it wanted to focus on the main competition, but as the deadline inched closer the team ended up joining.

“Our competitive side definitely got a hold of us,” Banister said. “We felt the need to compete in it.”

The supplemental competition was made up of a written report and a video and judged on five categories: design, analysis, construction sequencing, the video and popular vote.

The video component came as a surprise to Riley, but he ended up thinking it was a fun addition.

In the end, OIT came in first in the first three categories and second in both video ones, securing a guaranteed spot at next year's nationals competition.

This is Banister’s last year on the team as he is set to receive his master’s in civil engineering later this week. He credits the steel bridge team for helping to foster and develop some of his strongest relationships while in Klamath Falls.

After graduating, Banister is going to take a trip to Las Vegas before moving to La Grande to work at the civil engineering firm Anderson Perry, where he has worked the past three summers.

“This is about as great a way to end five years of school as you can get,” Banister said. “I’ve always taken a lot of pride being on the team and representing Oregon Tech.”

Reach Mail Tribune news intern William Seekamp at wseekamp@rosebudmedia.com.