NDSU GeoWall Team Wins First Place Honors

A team of NDSU Engineering students won first place overall and first place in the design report at the 2019 GeoWall regional competition held at the University of Manitoba on March 9, 2019.


The NDSU GeoWall design team is composed of undergrads Coltyn Nelson, Nicholas Attigah, Eugene Slagstad III, and Molly Berdan and graduate students Keshab Thapa and Asif Arshid.

The objective of the GeoWall competition is to design and build a model retaining wall in an 18” x 26” x 18” wooden box. After being filled with sand, the front face of the box is removed leaving only a piece of light posterboard paper. By incorporating engineering design elements featuring strips of a thinner weight Kraft paper, the posterboard wall must then withhold a bucket load of 60 pounds in addition to the weight of approximately 600 pounds of sand.

While the GeoWall challenge has very specific parameters that teams must conform to related to the size of the box and weight of the sand, there are still many opportunities for creative thinking. For example, all materials for the posterboard wall must be prepared onsite, within a 20 minute timeframe so time management is critically important. In order to quickly cut the retaining strips required for their design, the NDSU team utilized a pasta cutter, which created perfectly uniform thin strips which were then cut to various lengths and color coded.

Arshid is a civil engineering PhD candidate and the team’s captain. He shared that he learned much about himself through the project. “This GeoWall project was the best initiative I ever took and it furthered my confidence in myself. It taught me putting your head down and moving with baby steps can result in a full-fledged victory regardless of how slow or fast you go.”


NDSU civil and environmental engineering assistant professor Beena Ajmera is the team’s advisor. She had previously participated in a GeoWall competition before coming to NDSU and when she brought the challenge to the team she found a group who embraced the competition and introduced new design ideas that allowed them to successfully meet the challenge. “Our group’s design used only 3.76 grams of paper in retaining material for the wall which was lowest of the competition (the next closest teams used 5.76 and 6.81 grams). The weight of the material you use is a closely guarded secret because, during competition, the teams compete in order of most material used to least amount used and it creates a real sense of excitement to see who has designed the best retaining wall with the least material. I was so proud of our team for winning first place for their design and also getting first place in the reporting of the design.”

In review of the project, Arshid reflected, “It was a long and turbulent journey starting with zero dollar funding and no experience and finally ending up ahead of all Midwestern colleges, some who had much more experience and resources than us. Thanks to everyone who trusted, supported and helped us.”

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