Engineering majors take on Structures Projects Day
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
Forty-five Class of 2013 cadets majoring in civil engineering participated in the fourth annual Structures Projects Day Aug. 28, conducted through the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering.
Three sites were established to give cadet teams a chance to construct steel, wood and concrete and masonry designs. Maj. Cullen Jones was the officer-in-charge for the Project Trowel site, where cadets built a four-level high concrete structure. He said the hands-on project ties directly into the CE483 course, where they learn to design and reinforce concrete masonry structures.
George Markuson, a master mason from the Department of Public Works, assisted cadets at the site with instruction on how to break up blocks of concrete, applying mortar and other techniques of the trade.
“They have to build two doorways and probably get about four or five levels high before they receive a block of instruction on finishing techniques and how to complete the exteriors of the structure,” Jones said.
Afterward, cadets tear down the structure and clear the site for the next team. If their technique was good, less waste will be produced.
“Part of the investigation process they go through when breaking it down will show them what could happen if they don’t lay down a good mortar bed,” Jones said.
The steel and timber designs—Project Wrench and Project Hammer—relate to the CE404 course.
“The overall purpose is to get them exposure to the actual construction process with all the materials they’re learning about this semester,” Jones said. “It makes it a more visceral experience for them.”
Class of 2013 Cadet Kenneth Skillman said the most challenging structure for him was the concrete and masonry design.
“I worked construction in high school, but never got the experience of using mortar and cinder blocks to create a structure,” Skillman said. “I can swing a hammer or turn a wrench all day long, but I could personally use some more experience with a trowel.”
His favorite site was the wood design, and the end result of Project Hammer—an 8-by-10-foot shed—would serve as a storage facility for Range Control.
“I really enjoy building things with a hammer, nails and wood,” Skillman said. “Whenever I go home I give myself a wood project to complete; last break was a large bird house and the time before was a wooden trunk.”
Cadets must work together at each site to get the job done, with one acting as site foreman to provide guidance for the team. Skillman said this was crucial to completing the project and served as a major learning experience. Oversight and planning are emphasized in this event, but still, cadets need to know the basics of using tools of the trade.
“My biggest takeaway is how each of the materials behave in a unique way when you’re actually working with them,” Class of 2013 Cadet Rachel Miller said. “You can have a perfect plan on paper, but if the wood is warped or the wall isn’t plumb, you could be facing some serious issues with the structure.”
Project Hammer was her favorite site and she found Project Wrench the most challenging. Each team was briefed at the start that safety came first, which required cadets to wear hard hats, goggles and gloves throughout the projects and nominate at least one safety officer. Equally important was communication, because a massive three-level steel structure does not rise inside a classroom silently.
“With almost everyone working simultaneously in a tight space, it kept us on our toes and we made some mistakes,” Miller said.
Lt. Col. Craig Quadrato, the officer-in-charge of Project Wrench, said safety and speed were connected components of the steel design.
“If you work too fast, then you start violating safety guidelines—like dropping a tool or moving a piece of steel over someone’s head,” he said. “Then you get docked a point for every violation. The whole objective is to finish safely and efficiently with the winning team receiving 10 bonus points.”
West Point has been a virtual learning laboratory for engineering majors over the past few years, as cadets have seen the completion of the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School and the ongoing construction of Bartlett Hall.
“We’ve taken many opportunities to visit those construction sites—definitely. Those are prime examples of everything we are teaching them,” Jones said.
It also allows them opportunities to meet members of the Corps of Engineers, who oversee the military construction.
“Actually, one of the engineers from the USMAPS project is one of our advisors for the capstone course,” Jones said. “Eventually these cadets will be doing a capstone project next semester, which will result in them doing a complete design of a project in Afghanistan.”
One instructor said the majority of civil and mechanical engineering students tend to branch Engineer, and this is true in Miller’s case.
“The Engineer branch is my top choice,” Miller said. “There are a few factors there; I enjoy creating things and solving problems, and there are a lot of great opportunities with the Engineers to do exciting, meaningful missions. I have to say, the enthusiasm of the CE faculty for engineering might have something to do with that trend.”
Skillman, however, will branch infantry if selected, but would also be happy serving as an engineer officer.
The event also serves to attract interest from the yearling class as the time draws near for those cadets to choose their majors.
Ideally, the projects are built outdoors for better exposure, but inclement weather dictated site locations this time. Maj. Kevin Arnett, the officer-in-charge at the Project Hammer site, said it was still a successful event for the CME department.
“We did our best with the uncertain weather, and we definitely would have preferred to be out there on Thayer Walk to show our story to the yearling class as they prepare to select majors,” Arnett said. “However, as it was, the seniors who took part really got a lot out of the hands-on experience as well, so given the early rain, we couldn’t have hoped for it to go better.”
A Class of 2014 cadet and two Brazilian exchange cadets also participated in Structures Projects Day.
Branch Week is scheduled to begin Sept. 10 throughout West Point, which allows cadets to visit static displays and speak with branch officers and noncommissioned officers about their career fields.
At the Project Trowel site, cadets construct a concrete and masonry design from scratch, then take it apart before the next team arrives from either the Project Wrench (steel design) or Project Hammer (wood design) sites.
All photos by Mike Strasser/PV
Safety and communication were paramount at the steel design site, which required cadets to build a two-tier structure inside a Mahan Hall classroom.
Class of 2013 Cadet Rachel Miller found the Project Hammer site most enjoyable while the steel design proved too challenging for her team.