WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 31, 2011) -- Civil engineering majors built timber, steel and concrete masonry structures Aug. 23 in a daylong construction laboratory, which the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering arranges for the firsties annually at the start of the fall semester.

"We wanted them outside getting their hands on building some of these things so that when we're in the classroom teaching them how to design buildings out of timber and steel, they'll understand what goes into actually constructing them," Lt. Col. Craig Quadrato, CME instructor, said.

Split into small groups, 41 cadets rotated among the three stations throughout the day.
Project Wrench was a scaled down, two-story steel structural skeleton on Thayer Walk in between Jefferson Hall and the Honor Plaza.

The emphasis on this project was safety and communication, though building logically would be a close third.

"While they do make some mistakes, these are easily corrected and, most importantly, they learn from them here in an educational environment rather than after commissioning in the theater of operations," Quadrato said.

Maj. Kevin Arnett, CME instructor, said the project provides cadets with the physical processes of construction along with site organizational skills.

"It takes some of the concepts we teach in class and brings it to a life-size learning model," Arnett said.

Groups competed for the best time at this station, with 10 bonus points at stake for the winners. Safety violations detracted from the scores.

"The most valuable part of Structures Projects Day is the hand-on experience," Class of 2012 Cadet Douglass Waggoman said. "We spend time in the classroom everyday learning and doing small scale exercises in the lab, but Structures Projects Day allowed us to get a full-size hands-on experience."

Afterward, instructors briefed cadets on the gravity and lateral load systems--two concepts they would learn later in the classroom, but could see from their work on these projects.

Project Trowel, outside Mahan Hall, allowed cadets to mix concrete to build a two-foot wall enclosure, measuring a little over 11 feet long. Ledlie Klosky, CME associate professor, said it's important for students to get a feel for the trade crafts.

"A designer who doesn't understand the trades is useless," he said. "You have to get out of the classroom and into the field to do that. You need to feel the mortar. If you change the moisture content of the mortar, you'll see a huge change in the way it performs. You're not going to get that from reading it in the book. You might know about it, but you can't experience the essence of it. Also, engineering is a real thing and without interaction--touching, seeing--the engineering is simply a notion or a concept."

Of the three projects, Project Hammer--the timber structure--had a more lasting value since the completed product is a shed that will house the Spirit Tank.

Waggoman said for civil engineering majors this event is a great complement to the experience they get in labs and summer academic trips.

"We are very fortunate in that regard, but this allowed us to truly work and learn together through hands-on experience here at the academy," Waggoman said. "It was an extremely valuable experience, and I hope that it is an event that is conducted for years to come."

"Our team was good for several reasons," Waggoman said. "First, we had a great leader who took charge and had a plan. Through his plan, we had smaller groups and worked efficiently and effectively to complete the mission."