In a surprise move, the American Institute of Steel Construction announced on July 26 that it would ban all international schools from participating in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition, modify existing rules, and terminate its long-time partnership with ASCE for the competition, effective immediately. The Memorandum of Understanding governing the partnership between the two organizations was set to run through 2021.
AISC organized the first local competition in Michigan in 1987. A national competition followed in 1992, and AISC and ASCE later joined forces to shape steel bridge as an official ASCE Student Conference competition. Under the terms of the partnership, AISC retained the intellectual property rights to the competition. Rules were developed by a committee composed of members from each organization.
ASCE’s Committee on Student Members determined the eligibility requirements, consistent with those for other ASCE student competitions such as the National Concrete Canoe Competition. Regional steel bridge competitions were signature events at ASCE regional Student Conferences and AISC organized the national finals.
According to AISC, two factors drove its decision to terminate the partnership:
• A vote by AISC’s board to exclude university teams from outside the United States from the national competition, despite their participation since at least 1999.
• A desire to open the competition to teams that do not meet ASCE’s eligibility standards for national competition.
ASCE could not reconcile either change with its organizational mission and values.
“ASCE strongly believes that ASCE-affiliated competitions should be open to all ASCE student chapters that meet eligibility standards for national competition,” read a letter from ASCE President Kristina Swallow and ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith, sent to Student Chapter advisors this week. According to the statement, these eligibility standards are intended to ensure that all student competitors benefit from educational and professional development that they will carry forward into their careers.
ASCE had hoped to reach a resolution that would, at a minimum, limit disruption for the 2018-2019 academic year. AISC’s recent announcement appears to make such a compromise unworkable.
AISC’s abrupt and unexpected changes have created confusion and concern for many of the teams planning to compete in this year’s competition or host regional Student Conferences. In its announcement, AISC indicated that it would proceed with plans to operate the steel bridge competition this year, with the locations of the regional competitions (formerly part of the ASCE regional Student Conferences) still unknown. AISC informed two Canadian schools slated to host ASCE regional conferences that they could no longer host the associated steel bridge regional competition.
Other faculty advisors and hosts schools are still assessing the impact of this change on their students.
Brian Houston, the Student Chapter advisor at the University of Pittsburgh–Johnstown, is organizing the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Region Student Conference for next April.
“There wasn’t any warning out here in the trenches that this was coming,” said Houston. “We had no idea. My biggest goal now is to make sure the students aren’t adversely affected by this change.”
“There’s a business meeting at the conference, and it really is the one time of the year where all the schools get to sit down and talk about different issues,” Houston said. “And it introduces students to some amount of professionalism in their career, and how you handle people with different viewpoints.
“We need more of that training, not less. And my big concern is that steel bridge teams will no longer attend it because they’re not required to.”
Up the road at the University of Akron, Student Chapter Faculty Advisor Steve Duirk started planning the 2019 Ohio Valley Student Conference back in April.
“It’s going to have a big impact, because steel bridge is an integral part of the conference and how we score each university,” Duirk said. “My big thing is some of this seems like it’s not thinking about what the students need first.”
With the new school year only weeks away, ASCE is focused on supporting its Student Chapters through this transition.
Immediately following AISC’s announcement, ASCE’s Executive Committee appointed a Student Competition Task Force that is working on strategies that address the short-term challenges associated with the 2019 Steel Bridge Competition, and the longer term needs for innovative, global student competitions. The task force will deliver its initial report later in August.
“Of course I’m disappointed by this turn of events, especially for those students and faculty that have already begun planning for the upcoming year. However, I’m excited about the long-term opportunity this creates for ASCE and all of our Student Members across the globe,” Swallow said.
“We can now develop not just a new structural competition but a variety of student competitions to engage all civil engineering students. Further, we can ensure these competitions encourage our students to be creative and innovative and consider sustainability and resilience in their practice.”
ASCE Student Conference hosts and Student Chapters should expect to receive more specific guidance from ASCE in the very near future about how to handle this situation.