Truss Day

Truss Day
Truss Day

CET, Nano and Individualized Studies students test bridge models

Bridge Three Collapse

Hands-on learning is a proven formula in technical education. Alan Hancock, an instructor in the Civil Engineering Technology program at Dakota County Technical College, collaborated with Larry Stone, a math instructor at the college, to apply that formula in an experiment that not only united their own two disciplines, but also Nanoscience Technology and Individualized Studies.

“The idea was to have teams of students design and construct different types of wood-lathe trusses and then test the tensile strength of their designs,” Alan said. “We had four teams, three from Civil, one from Nano and one from Individualized Studies.”

Larry enjoyed watching the concepts he teaches in trigonometry class employed in the material world. “Well, I thought it was pretty exciting to see students using the technique of truss analysis they learned in trig class,” he said. “One group developed a design [Bridge Four] that broke the all-time record for most weight held—three hundred and sixty pounds! Pretty impressive for a bunch of glued sticks.”

Bridge Four Collapse

Larry pointed out that an ounce of math is sometimes worth 10 pounds of insight. He noted that one group mathematically determined that one of their truss members would not support any weight. The group removed the truss member and used the material for extra gusset plates. “Math guiding design,” Larry said. “The stuff of life.”

“It’s also fun that even though everyone was given the same materials and methods of analysis, they all came up with different designs,” he added, “emphasizing that engineering is as much an art as a science. They each had pet ideas they could nurture to reality and then put to the ultimate test. Fun, but also deeply engaging. Hands-on learning at its best.”

Truss Day Bridge Gallery

Student perspectives

Abdul Kamara

Abdul Kamara
Age: 23
Hometown: Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa
Residence now: Eagan, Minn.
Program area: Civil Engineering Technology
Degree: A.A.S.

After graduating from his high school in Freetown in 2008, Abdul Kamara enrolled at Fourah Bay College, the oldest university in West Africa, earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Hearing good things about Minnesota from relatives living in the state, Abdul immigrated to the U.S. in 2012. His uncle suggested enrolling in the CET program at DCTC.

“I like the way my teachers present course materials through lab and field work,” Abdul said. “They are very good at bringing students to a great level of understanding. I also like how students interact with and learn from each other.”

Abdul considers the truss exercise an ideal way to combine trigonometry with the technologies taught in his civil engineering classes. “We learned how to determine the strength of a structure,” he said. “Our group built the strongest truss [Bridge Four], winning at the weight of three hundred and sixty pounds.”

Abdul’s plans for after he graduates from DCTC include attending North Dakota State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Much of his family, including his parents, two brothers and one sister, reside in Freetown. Abdul plays piano in his free time, focusing on gospel and church music.

Preston Finger

Preston Finger
Age: 20
Hometown: Northfield, Minn.
Residence now: Northfield, Minn.
Program area: Nanoscience Technology
Degree: A.A.S.

A 2012 graduate of Northfield High School, Preston Finger is interested in the materials science and engineering aspects of nanotechnology. Preston likes the idea of working with substances at atomic and molecular levels to create new and unique materials. Nanoscience Technology at DCTC offers him ample opportunities to get hands-on experience working with nanoscale equipment in the program’s lab areas.

“I love the class sizes and how you really get to know your instructors,” he said, adding that the flow of ideas crosses over to his general education courses. “Concepts are connected even in classes that aren’t focused on science. You get to ask questions and throw around your own ideas.”

Preston appreciated the chance to merge mathematics with sound design in the truss exercise. “I really got into it,” he said. “We made multiple designs with multiple calculations, using pyramids and tetrahedrons. We were the only group that tilted in the sides of our structure—and we did very well.”

On track to graduate from DCTC fall 2015, Preston is aiming to earn a bachelor’s degree in an engineering-related program at the University of Minnesota, referencing the Minnesota Nano Center as a definite plus. And he’s not ruling out earning a Ph.D. “I want to an expert in a specific field, but also have a broad range of knowledge,” he said.

A year-round swimmer in high school, Preston competed in the butterfly, freestyle and independent medley. His brother, Tyler, 30, has four children, and his sister, Victoria, 16, attends Northfield High. Taking a page from a philosophy fostered by his parents, Preston has learned how to balance school with recreation, and enjoys hanging out with friends and relaxing.

For more information about Civil Engineering Technology at DCTC, contact:
  • Alan Hancock
    Civil Engineering Technology Instructor
  • Charles Hubbard
    Civil Engineering Technology Instructor
For more information about mathematics courses at DCTC, contact:
For more information about Nanoscience Technology at DCTC, contact:
  • Deb Newberry
    Nanoscience Technology Instructor

Truss Day video courtesy of Curt Smith