MORE than 30 academically deserving Grade 11 and 12 learners from disadvantaged and socio-economic vulnerable backgrounds got a glimpse of the civil engineering industry, when they had to design and build model bridges as part of the iGEMS holiday programme.South African National Roads Agency SOC Ltd (SANRAL) together with SMEC South Africa, Labco and Unity in Africa Foundation, collaborated in hosting the fifth annual iGEMS bridge building competition, where learners from 16 high schools were taught the skills required to plan and build a bridge. The winning team were Likhaya Ntshiza (Molly Blackburn High School), Vicarlia Edinberry (Sanctor High School) and Samkelo Ngobese (Daniel Pienaar High School).The programme promotes engineering as a career among high school learners who have the potential to study engineering at a tertiary level. The bridge building competition was one of a series of workshops, site visits and projects held during the July school holiday for the iGEMS learners. Based on the format and rules on the South African Institution of Civil Engineering’s (SAICE) bridge building competition, learners had to design and then build model bridges using only wooden sticks, rope and glue in a limited time frame following functional specifications and construction methods. The bridges were judged on aesthetics, weight and structural strength. Strength testing was done using suspended weights that literally stretched the bridges to breaking point in an ultimate showdown between the 10 teams.Vicarlia Edinberry (16), a Grade 11 learner at Sanctor High, discovered surprising qualities about herself during the competition. “Knowing how to work well with other members of the team was one of the surprising qualities. The competition taught me how to use my listening skills and consider other members’ opinions, and that is why we were able to work as a team and develop good communication skills,” Edinberry said. SANRAL southern region manager Mbulelo Peterson said that investing in these learners was an investment in our country. “Engineering is a scarce skill in the country. If we do not invest in the youth throughout their high school and university studies, we face the risk of not having engineers building and maintaining SA’s national road network,” Peterson said. This year, an additional four Eastern Cape students received bursaries. Going forward, the number of bursary recipients in the province is likely to increase now that Nelson Mandela University offers a BEng Tech in the civil engineering degree.