ROLLA - When Russellville High School alumnae Sara Koestner decided to attend the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, joining a competitive engineering team was a must.
A school year later, Koestner with her Steel Bridge Design Team is headed to the national competition May 23-24, after recently winning the American Society of Civil Engineers' Mid-Continent Student Conference regional event in Stillwater, Okla.
"Ours was so much different, we were worried," Koestner said.
The team of mostly seniors recruited Koestner at the annual Minerama, a fall fair for each of the schools' 14 competitive team to show off its skills to potential members.
"They were very cheerful and our meetings were fun," Koestner said. "The team spends so much time together, we become a family."
Dedicating several hours each week, the 35 team members concentrated on the design phase in the fall and construction techniques in the spring.
"I learned by watching in the design phase," Koestner said. "They used tools I had never seen."
The upperclassmen were patient and thorough in teaching the new members what to do, because they will be the leaders next year, she said.
Koestner is one of the five executive members for the 2014-15 team. As secretary-treasurer, she will concentrate on raising the funds the team will need to travel to the regional competition, and hopefully to nationals again.
To cover this year's expenses, the team raked leaves and sold sunglasses, as well as reaching out to former team members.
Koestner hopes her hometown will support her and the team as they head to nationals in Akron, Ohio, this year, as well as in the future.
"After my first competition, I realized what everything we were doing meant," she said. "Now, I'm really excited for next year, to put more into it."
Pursuing a dual major in civil and architectural engineering, Koestner said the team experience teaches working with groups and different ideas and personalities. It's also a chance to work out some lessons taught in the classroom.
Koestner, the daughter of Todd and Sheri Koestner, discovered her interest in civil engineering by job shadowing her uncle, who works for the Missouri Department of Transportation, and recognizing she enjoys problem-solving.
Most of her life, Koestner said she has been keenly observant of building and bridges wherever she travels.
Civil engineering offers her a chance to combine her strengths with her desire to help people, she said.
The steel bridge competition challenged teams to construct a scale-model steel bridge as fast as possible. The bridges were then "load tested" to see if they could hold the required weight of 2,400 pounds. Missouri S&T's bridge weighs 320 pounds and is comprised of 22 pieces and more than 70 bolts. It is 17 feet long and is a 1:10 scale model bridge.
At the regional competition, the team placed in six of the seven awards categories: first in efficiency, first in economy, second in construction speed, first in stiffness, third in display, and first overall.
"This was an amazing learning experience for me and I'm so excited to be a part of this team," Koestner said. "I've learned so much just by watching and asking questions along the whole process"
"Being on this team has also assured me that this school is where I belong and this is what I want to do in my future career."