Researchers evaluate bridge life cycle impact on remote community in Alaska

June 01, 2022

By Mary Fetzer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation’s EArly-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER), are studying the social and engineering impacts of the Wood River Bridge on the surrounding rural community. Part of the team, led by Rebecca Napolitano, assistant professor of architectural engineering, met with students and instructors from the Bristol Bay Regional Career and Technical Education Program in Dillingham in April to explain their ongoing work.   

The researchers aim to develop a bridge life cycle management protocol that can be used in rural communities across the United States. Napolitano and her doctoral student Rakeh Saleem are collaborating with the project’s principal investigator Guangqing Chi, professor of rural sociology, demography and public health sciences, College of Agricultural Sciences; Heather Randell, assistant professor of rural sociology and demography, College of Agricultural Sciences; and Megan Mucioki, assistant research professor, Social Science Research Institute; and partners in Alaska.    

aerial drone image of students standing on bridge in Alaska

Over the course of two years, Penn State researchers will use drone imagery to assess the effects of Alaska’s harsh climate on the structural condition and safety of the Wood River Bridge, pictured here with students and instructors from the Bristol Bay Regional Career and Technical Education Program. Credit: Steve Colligan/3GLP. 

person with glasses helps two other people use a remote control

Drone pilot Steve Colligan from the Academy of Model Aeronautics in Alaska teaches Bristol Bay Regional Career and Technical Education students how to fly drones in a safe zone. The students are working toward obtaining drone licenses. Credit: Rakeh Saleem/Penn State.

drone view of Wood River Bridge in Alaska

Wood River Bridge connects the two sides of the Aleknagik community and provides quicker access to Dillingham, a larger city about 20 miles away. Previously, inhabitants of Aleknagik had to boat, fly or use a snow vehicle to traverse the river. Penn State researchers are addressing the impact of bridge construction on the region’s livelihood, education, social ties and well-being. Credit: Steve Colligan/3GLP.

person in safety vest operates a remote control along a country road

Rakeh Saleem, graduate student at Penn State, uses a drone to gather aerial imagery of Wood River Bridge. Data gathered from drone images will be used to study the life cycle of the structure. Credit: Steve Colligan/3GLP. 

14 people pose on outdoor stairs near a river

Students and instructors from the Bristol Bay Regional Career and Technical Education Program pose in front of Wood River Bridge. Credit: Steve Colligan/3GLP. 


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