American Society of Civil Engineers

Lessons Learned from a Design Competition for Structural Engineering Students: The Case of a Pedestrian Walkway at the Université de Sherbrooke

by Pierre Labossière, (corresponding author), (Professor, Dept. of Civil Engineering, Univ. de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada J1K 2R1. E-mail: and Luke A. Bisby, (Ove Arup Foundation/Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow in Structures and Fire, Univ. of Edinburgh, EH9 3JL Scotland, U.K. E-mail:

Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, Vol. 136, No. 1, January 2010, pp. 48-56, (doi:

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Document type: Case Studies
Abstract: Competence in design is an engineering skill that can only be achieved with appropriate training and through accumulation of relevant experience. While in some fields of engineering there are numerous industry-oriented problems that can be investigated reasonably thoroughly, and for which the pinnacle of formation is attained when a team of university students builds a working prototype, there are unfortunately few genuinely realistic conceive-design-build-test (operate) opportunities in which structural engineering students can participate actively during their formative years. This stems from the very nature of structural engineering itself which, as in the case of most civil engineering designs, usually calls for a unique solution to a problem of relatively large scale. One way to provide a realistic and significant structural engineering design opportunity is through student design competitions. However, the conditions of success for such a competition depend on the appropriate coincidence of interest between program goals, commitment from the owner of the structure to be designed and eventually built, and support, both financial and technical, from professional or research organizations. This case study reports on a recent structural engineering student design competition for a pedestrian walkway in Sherbrooke, Canada. It highlights the key technical features of the competition, the organizational obstacles, and the professional benefits for the participants.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Structural engineering
Engineering education

Author Keywords:
Design competitions
Training opportunities
Structural engineering
Design process
Capstone projects
Introduction to professional practice