Grover Cleveland High School wins International Bridge Building Contest

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Ridgewood’s Grover Cleveland High School beat its competitors, taking first place in the International Bridge Building Contest at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

Tenth-grader Shafiqur Khan, 16, of Kew Gardens brought home the winning trophy from the April 21 competition, beating a second-place finisher from Portland, Ore. The International Bridge Building Contest gives students the opportunity to experience what it is like to be an engineer, designing structures and seeing them perform.

Khan placed fourth at the 2017 Internationals in Dallas, Texas, last year.

“I love building bridges,” said Shafiqur. “I never had a hobby before, but building stuff is my hobby now, and I feel privileged to be a part of something like this with my friends.”

The International Bridge Building Contest requires students to build a bridge from 3/32-square-inch basswood sticks, which is then subjected to weight from below until the bridge falls. The objective is to build a bridge as light as possible. The number of grams the bridge holds is divided by the number of grams the bridge weighs for an efficiency score -- or, how many times its own weight the bridge holds.

Shafiqur’s winning bridge weighed 10.75 grams and held 52 kilograms before breaking. Since only 50 kilograms are counted, Khan’s bridge held 4,651 times its own weight.

Grover Cleveland at 2127 Himrod St. in Ridgewood, was first represented at the International Bridge Building Contest in 2009 and has steadily improved. This is the second time the school has won the competition.

“The students spent hours before and after school familiarizing themselves with the rules, and testing numerous practice bridges before they built their competition bridges,” said Lloyd Kiefer, a science teacher at Grover Cleveland. “The students had great enthusiasm, passion, and were very helpful to each other, putting in many hours.”

Khan is a part of the Grover Cleveland after-school Science Research Club, which prepares students for future careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine. The team consists of Ankit Bhandari, Kristina Zotolli, Saiman Tamang, Jeevan Bastola, and Bishan Rayamajhi, Christopher Chan, Tasnia Rahman, Dawa Sherpa, and Anith Devkota.

Grover Cleveland advanced to the Internationals due to its victory at the Regional Building Contest by prevailing in the finals over John Bowne High School in Flushing.

According to Kiefer, for a beginner building a bridge model it can take three to four weeks, whereas an experienced student (by general estimate) can do it within one to two weeks.

“What’s wonderful is that it’s an activity students can do at their own pace,” said Kiefer.

To prepare for the competition, Shafiqur made his design on the computer to be scaled and placed it on a board. He began cutting the pieces and putting it together, building two bridges, which then became 10 in total.

“Eat, sleep and build bridges. That’s what we do,” said Shafiqur.

Ninth-grader Kristina Zotolli, who is a new member of the Bridge Engineering Club, said she would like to pursue the medical or engineering fields.

“I am very interested in different bridge designs and the forces that act on them,” said Khristina. “We always helped each other, and I like the camaraderie of an academic after-school activity.”

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

Posted 12:00 am, May 20, 2018
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