Additional competitions articles:
Through competitive bridge building, art
teacher Kevin Chung brings together the
domains of art and engineering at Advanced
Technologies Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Chung has found great success leading
students toward career paths, scholarships,
and top spots at international competition.
Teachers seek activities that balance the
varying needs of their students. Chung –
who teaches studio art and drawing in Clark
County School District, the fifth-largest
district in the country – has found a way to
reach his students through his own roots in
As a university student, Chung first enrolled in
the pre-engineering program at the University
of Minnesota. Ultimately, he was drawn toward
the visual arts and changed majors. A decade
into his teaching career, however, his pedagogy
would reconnect to his engineering training. It
started with a spark of inspiration from his oldest
daughter, then a third grader.
“She came home from school in the GATE
program,” Chung explained. “They were
involved in a bridge-building competition,
and she showed me the requirements. I
started working with her.”
The next year, he implemented the activity
with high school students, starting an after-school
club that has recruited heavily from his
Bridge building is an activity that involves
physical science concepts such as forces and
material strength as well as math concepts
such as measurement and geometry. But it
also pulls in design, drawing, and prototyping
along with hands-on construction and testing.
For Chung, the activity is a perfect blend of
art and engineering.
“I tell them we are going to be drawing
structures as though you are a civil engineer.
You are going to design a bridge on these
specifications.” Students build bridges
from basswood and test their load-bearing
capacity with Pitsco’s Structure Tester, which
Chung counts as an important tool of success
These days, things are going very well for the
after-school club. Chung has taken numerous
students through regional competition to the
International Bridge Building Contest, often
hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology
in Chicago. He was originally drawn in by the
substantial scholarship awarded to the winner.
It was a chance to set a great opportunity
before his students.
One of Chung’s students who won the
international title in recent years is currently
pursuing an engineering degree at Olin
College of Engineering in Massachusetts,
which has been ranked as one of the three
best engineering undergraduate schools
in the country. And, in 2020, two of the top
three spots went to his students – including
the grand prize winner, which went to his
youngest daughter. (If you think about the
math there, you’ll find that Chung has been at
this activity for more than a decade.)
“My students’ efficiency scores are usually in
the range of 2,000-4,000 points,” Chung reported.
“These efficiency scores are very similar to the
strength of Superman holding up a bus.”
Apart from the prestige and the award,
Chung believes his students reap educational
rewards from the hands-on project. “They see
more relevancy. It is much easier for them to
understand the concepts. We can talk
about stress, tension, compression,
and torque, but it is just conceptual
until they see it in a real-life situation.”
A great teacher together with a great
activity delivers great rewards.
Pitsco structure testers help guide design changes
For Kevin Chung, coach of the bridge-building after-school club at Advanced
Technologies Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Pitsco Structure Tester has been
“Over the years, I have always promoted the Structure Tester for its ease of use
and student-centered design at all the in-services I presented at. My students were
able to win the International Model Bridge Contest over the last two years because
they were able to use this machine to test their bridges.”
He likes its portability and ease of use. But the greatest benefit, he says, is the
control it offers over the break itself. “You can apply certain pressures until you hear
that first snap. Usually, the bridge doesn’t blow up on you. You can find the weakest
point in the design, and it will break there first. If you catch it early enough, you can
repair that flaw and reinforce. Then, you can test again.” He says his students get
three or four tests from a single bridge.
In its most recent incarnation, the Structures Testing Instrument 2.0, the tester can
apply up to 800 pounds of force using a turn-force wheel. It offers an easy-to-read
digital display, load-cell technology, and measurements in multiple units. And, it can
also be used to test towers!