Companies Help College Students Become Men and Women of Steel TTU Engineering Students Welcome Unusual Gift to Campus

Medical students have cadavers, student teachers have classrooms and now Tennessee Technological University students have, well, an 8 foot high, 2,763 pound, gray steel teaching structure.

The common theme is that nothing replaces hands-on experience when training for a profession. Thanks to two Nashville-area businesses with ties to Tennessee Tech, civil and environmental engineering students no longer have to rely on just books to learn the most common types of steel-to-steel connections.

The recently delivered structure contains 27 different kinds of steel connections, and at first glance could be mistaken for a piece of abstract art, with its steel tentacles reaching up and out at various angles. But the American Institute of Steel Construction has endorsed this structure and others like it across the country as the most effective way to illustrate steel design to students.

"Students who have never been around construction sites to see steel being erected have a difficult time visualizing the 3-D character of the connections," said Tennessee Tech professor Noel Tolbert, who initiated the project.

Sharon Huo, a civil and environmental engineering assistant professor, was instrumental in coordinating the structure's arrival to campus.

Wylie Steel Fabricators of Springfield, the company that fabricated the framework for Opryland Hotel's delta area glass roof, donated all the materials and labor to create the structure.

"What you can't get out of a book is the hands-on experience this teaching structure offers," said George Wallace, Wylie's executive vice president and plant manager.

Sentry Steel Service of Hendersonville delivered the structure to campus. Sentry's president, Keith Hopper, a 1983 Tennessee Tech graduate, took the opportunity to help his alma mater by delivering the structure to its permanent home behind one of the university's engineering buildings.

"Wylie Steel and Sentry Stell went far beyond their calls of duty," said Tolbert. "Most donors of similar teaching aids simply deliver the material unassembled; they put it together, brought a truck from Nashville and set it up for us."

More than 70 other U.S. institutions now use similar teaching structures in their civil and environmental teaching programs.