TRIMONT - A Trimont native who will receive his degree in civil engineering next year managed to be on a winning team for bridge-building earlier this year, and is already working on the next competition.
Steven Borntrager, a 1980 graduate of Trimont High School, went back to school in 2007 after a lengthy career in the Air Force.
"I'd been out of school and I had to start back at the high school level," he said.
After a few years at a community college in Farmington, Borntrager began working on a civil engineering degree at the University of Minnesota in September 2010.
"I've been a blue-collar worker all my life," Borntrager said. "Civil engineering is a very manual type of engineering. You end up going out on jobs a lot and that intrigued me. It's a way I could get a four-year degree without ending up at a job where I'm stuck behind a desk. Plus I now understand my eighth- and 10th-grader's math."
Last year, he and a group of other engineering students began working on an entry for the National Student Steel Bridge Challenge, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineering.
"We build a one-tenth scale steel bridge," he said. "The rules change each year, so you can't just re-enter what you had last year. The bridge has to hold 2,500 pounds, yet be as light as possible,"
Borntrager's group's entry weighed in at 172 pounds, was 23 feet long and 3 feet high and wide. It ended up winning three of the four categories in the competition.
"We were the overall champion against eight other individual entries," Borntrager said. "We also had the fastest build time and the most economical."
One remarkable part of the competition for Borntrager's group was that the work was all extra-curricular and voluntary.
"There are some schools that give credits and sponsor for the competition, but we don't have that," Borntrager said. "We need to get sponsorships for supplies and for travel and hotel stays ... But it's nice to be in the competition, even though I'm the elder statesman on the team."
Borntrager is involved again in this year's bridge competition, acting as a team captain.
"They shortened the bridge this year," he said. "We need 17 feet to span a river, and we have 12 feet plus a 3-foot overhang, and it needs to hold 1,500 pounds in the middle."
While not tipping his hand, Borntrager did say the design phase is complete and the bridge is now in the fabrication stage.
"This is where we weld it together, and I learned to weld right here in Trimont," he said.
This year's competition will be held at Iowa State University in Ames around the first weekend of April.
"One thing I would like to mention is that none of this would've happened without the [Veterans Administration] bill," Borntrager said. "I can't say enough good things of how they've treated me."\