4-H Bridge Bust returns to Kendall County, promoting STEM and life skills

Kendall County Engineer Francis Klaas, along with a few audience volunteers, show how bridges like the new one at Eldamain Road support weight. Klaas spoke to the crowd as part of this year’s 4-H Bridge Bust Contest.

YORKVILLE - After a three-year break, the 4-H Bridge Bust competition returned Feb. 11, providing young people from throughout Kendall County and northeastern Illinois with an opportunity to test their model bridge-building skills while also encouraging math, engineering, design, and teamwork skills.

“We were excited to bring it back after a pause due to the pandemic, and once again provide area youth and families this unique opportunity,” Katie McFarland, 4-H Youth Development Program Coordinator with University of Illinois Extension, said in a news release. “Each year, we encourage teams to challenge their brains, work together, and learn new things, all while having fun.”

Teams registered from across Chicagoland including Bristol, Campton Hills, Frankfort, Glen Ellyn, Maple Park, Mendota, Millington, Oakbrook, Plano, Somonauk, Warrenville, West Chicago, Wheaton and Winfield. In all, 15 teams participated in 2023 event, organized by the University of Illinois Extension’s 4-H program, with support from Rural King of Plano and Parkview Christian School in Yorkville.

The Feb. 11 event was held at Parkview Christian School’s lower campus in Yorkville.

“From start to finish, this project encourages planning, time management, teamwork, communication and sportsmanship, as well as skills in engineering, physics, math and design,” McFarland said.

Each team picked up the same packet, which included 20 balsa wood pieces, a bottle of glue and the contest guidelines, which originated with Purdue University. The goal is to build a bridge that can support the weight of a bucket and sand, which is gradually added until the bridge busts.

“In this competition, holding weight is not enough though, as the true goal is structural efficiency,” McFarland said. That calculation takes into account the weight of the bridge itself and provides a structural efficiency rating.

The 2023 Overall Structural Efficiency Award went to Skräckinjagande (or Team Awesome) of Plano, made up of Michael, Charlotte, Angeleah and Serafina Wyncoop, and the family’s Swedish exchange student. The Wyncoops have participated in the event for multiple years.

“Our family participates in Bridge Bust because it’s a great opportunity to work together on a project as a family,” Charlotte Wyncoop said in the release. “There are so few chances to do things together, things that pose a challenge and really make us think. Bridge Bust is a fantastic way to draw closer together on a shared project that can pull together everyone’s strengths.”

Each year, the team records a video of each bust and studies where and how their bridge broke, she said. The next year, they use that information to try out new designs. This year, the kids modeled their design using Fusion 360 and found it to be a fast way to make and test small changes.

“We might never build a real bridge, but understanding what shapes are strong, impacts even something as simple as building a piece of IKEA furniture,” Wyncoop said. “My kids enjoy the 4-H woodworking and sewing projects, and those have been impacted by their Bridge Bust experiences. [For both, you] have to understand how supports and structures work.”

The 2023 Overall Aesthetics Award went to AM Crushers, the duo of Michael and Adelynn St. Laurent of Millington. The team’s winning bridge featured a tall truss design with X-supports.

Aesthetic scores are based on provided specifications, the quality of craftsmanship, sound structural design and originality. Aesthetics judging took place before testing the bridges, while the teams and spectators participated in hands-on STEM activities with the 4-H Teen Science Ambassadors.

The crowd also heard from two guest speakers. Francis Klaas, Kendall County engineer and namesake of the new bridge on Eldamain Road, explained the process of planning and building a real-world bridge and demonstrated how bridges support weight with a few audience volunteers and a hands-on model.

Local 4-H teen Matias Habib shared how 4-H helped him meet others and explore his interests. As part of a 4-H project, he developed TerraBuster, a bio-pesticide to protect crops from Japanese beetles, which earned him a National 4-H Youth in Action Award.

“4-H allows youth to expand their horizons, learn new skills and develop into leaders,” Habib said. ”After struggling with cognitive, social and language barriers, 4-H gave me a place to connect and develop my passion for science and research.”

Through 4-H, youth can explore animal science, career and leadership development, creative arts, environmental sciences, global civic engagement, healthy living and nutrition and STEM.

Bridge Bust is just one example. Top finishers for the 2023 contest are as follows:

Division 1: Aesthetics & Structural Efficiency: first place – Skräckinjagande (Team Awesome); second place – The Chickeneers, the Vickery family of Bristol.

Division 2: Aesthetics & Structural Efficiency: first place – W & B Construction, the Cook family of West Chicago; second place – Best Bridge Much Win Very Wow, the Carlson family of Plano.

Division 3: Aesthetics: first place – AM Crushers; second place – Golden Gate Gnade, the Gnade family of Frankfort; Structural Efficiency: first place – Golden Gate Gnade; second place – AM Crushers.

“We are grateful to our participants, partners, volunteers, judges, speakers and guests for making this return of an annual event such a success,” Britton said. “We look forward to our 10th Bridge Bust in 2024.”

This year’s industry experts and volunteer judges included: Jo Ann Britton, retired 4-H program coordinator and local contest originator; Chris Erickson, project executive at Power Construction; Jeremy Metz, engineer at Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Inc; Austin Naekerts, Illinois State University student and past Bridge Bust champion; Jeff Naekerts, mechanical engineer; and Hezha Sadraddin, structural consultant at International Code Council – S. K. Ghosh Associates.

To learn about 4-H clubs and experiences, visit go.illinois.edu/info4Hdkk.