Lisa Nash ’89, ’90G and Hannah Miller ’21 share expertise with teens in grant-funded summer STEM program

Thursday, August 3, 2023
Lisa Nash and Hannah Miller

Lisa Nash ’89, ’90G is brimming with enthusiasm as she discusses the Bridge Project, a weeklong program for teens that she and Hannah Miller ’21 developed and teach each summer at UNH Tech Camp. Focused on the many and varied engineering principles that go into designing and constructing a bridge, the program features an array of hands-on activities, demonstrations, field trips and guest speakers. “The overarching goal is to help students deepen their critical thinking skills and learn to ask insightful questions,” says Nash, a middle school science teacher in Dover for the past 35 years.  

Funded by the Federal Highway Administration and New Hampshire Department of Transportation as part of the National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI) program, the Bridge Project is also intended to introduce students to educational opportunities and careers that exist in today's transportation industry. The program is offered at no cost to participants and all experience levels are welcome. 

“Like all Tech Camp programs, we use a project-based learning format that engages students in activities that explore real-world problems and challenges,” explains Miller, a geotechnical engineer at the Boston consulting firm Haley and Aldrich, Inc. “This year, we focused on two current bridge projects underway in New Hampshire: a new exit ramp and bridge being built on I-93 in Derry and a bridge rehabilitation project in Allenstown.” 

Over the course of the week, students got a chance to survey each of these sites—both on foot and via drone—and hear directly from experts in the field about the construction process and how important decisions are made. 

“It’s a very cool learning environment for a 15-year-old,” says Nash. “They get to go on the other side of the fence, right into the construction zone.” 

Lessons in the field are paired with classroom activities and guest speakers covering topics that include geotechnical and structural engineering; testing and analyzing building materials; assessing the environmental impact of a construction project; and using computer software to test how compression and tension factor into the design process. 

As a final project, students each choose one of the sites visited as the focus of a scale model they will build and present to the class. Students get to play the role of a civil engineer who is in charge of a large, multifaceted project and use real, site-specific information to make data-informed decisions on the design and construction of their own bridge. 

Both Nash and Miller agree that this kind of immersive learning experience can be transformational for students. By the end of the Bridge Project, a number of participants expressed a newfound love for engineering that they could see pursuing in college or as a career.  

Students also learned that in addition to engineering there are a variety of other careers opportunities that exist within the construction industry—from doing design work on a computer to operating a crane out in the field.  

For their part, Nash and Miller both love teaching the Bridge Project and look forward to it every summer.  

“Tech Camp has a great energy that you can feel walking through Kingsbury Hall,” says Miller. “The mix of teachers, students and visiting guests all coming together to learn, explore, ask questions and experiment is really awe-inspiring.” 

In addition to the Bridge Project, the National Summer Transportation Institute also funds a weeklong program called Transportation Engineering that is also offered at no cost to participants.