Students learn about “Teamwork and Innovation” on the Bridge Project



Special project advisor Brian Conybeare discusses the project's third year w/students at Nyack High School
Special project advisor Brian Conybeare discusses the project’s third year w/students at Nyack High School

Nyack High School juniors Andrew Schla, Olivia Demetres and Andrew Pointek were surprised at the amount of people in various careers collaborating on the New NY Bridge project.

“It was more environmentally-friendly,” Demetres said after the Educational Outreach presentation at their school earlier this week. “That’s right, with the oysters and the fish, and the falcon chicks,” Schla said. Pointek, who had seen previous presentations, was happy to learn there are no fees to cross the river via the shared use path.

Assistant principal Tracy Smith opened the program — the third of a five-year educational series — that coincides with the project.

“There are a lot of people working on the project,” special project advisor Brian Conybeare told students during the “Teamwork and Innovation” assemblies Tuesday. “My goal for you today is to let you know it could be you one day, working on a cool project like this, building a bridge or infrastructure, and it isn’t just engineers and architects.”

More than 3,000 professionals with varied skills brought the project to its halfway mark. Its design is 99 percent finished and employs building information modeling (BIM) technology.

Several students raised their hands when he asked if they knew what careers they’d choose. One student said she wanted to be a writer, and Conybeare shared how he changed careers several times during college, choosing communication classes during his senior year.

“It’s OK if you don’t know now,” he said. “You don’t have to know yet. If you do know, then you’re lucky and can start following a path.” Careers and decisions change, he said, and a project like building a bridge requires numerous professionals with different skills collaborating together.

3D technology helps designers see the project virtually and how each part of the bridge fits into its other aspects
3D technology helps designers see the project virtually and how each part of the bridge fits into its other aspects

Students watched transfixed as the “Project Progress” video compressed two years’ on the river into two minutes. Another attention-grabber was “Building a Landmark,” in which various crew members — a dock builder, a main span superintendent, a carpenter, a crew boat captain, an environmental inspector, a concrete plant foreman, and a crane operator — described their jobs.

“They talked a lot last year about engineering and how so many careers have come out of the project, and how the project can influence students the post-secondary education,” Smith said of earlier presentations at the school.

The initial Educational Outreach program, “Discovery and Environmental Stewardship,” included environmental monitoring, the oyster-harvesting program (summer 2013), and geotech investigations. “Building a Strong Foundation” the following year focused on pile driving, how pile caps were made, and piers in the river.

Elliot Scharf’s Introduction to Engineering and Design classes ask students to plan projects from thought process through design using computer-aided design (CAD). “That’s what the class is about, doing a project later in the year, designing something around a problem and given time and constraints.”

The class teaches how to think of an idea then engineer and design it from model to finished product.

“One of the projects I’ll have the kids work on is with other classes, part of Project Lead the Way,” Scharf explained. The 501 non-profit organization develops STEM (science, technology, engineer, math) curricula for grades K-12.

Students will work with peers in another part of the county, Scharf said, to experience the complexities of collaboration. “’It’s hard to get in touch with my partner,’” they’d tell me. “That’s the real world, working with other people who may be in different time zones or other locations,” he said.

Sophomore Charlie Austin, who aspires to be a structural engineer, is currently taking Scharf’s class. “I learned about how the bridge would be made steady (seismic isolation),” he said of his first bridge presentation.” Also interesting, he said, is this bridge will have two spans and a bicycle/walking path. “And it will be more efficient.”

“I found it interesting that they talked about how the bridge spans will be sturdier and gave career information,” Smith said. “The students were engaged and listening, and it’s a good reflection on what Brian was presenting.”

To learn more about the project and its environmental and educational initiatives visit

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