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St. Mary’s Ryken engineering scholar builds bridge for school’s cross country team

Although she graduates this year from St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland, Kathleen Cain has built a bridge with – and for – the school that will last long after she departs her alma mater.

The future engineer constructed a bridge on the St. Mary’s County campus that the school’s cross country team uses. She used her knowledge from her four years in the Ryken Scholars Engineering Program to replace the former bridge that was destroyed when a tree fell on it.

“When I was a junior, my engineering class was approached with the issue that the cross country team needed a new bridge,” Cain explained. “I was interested in that because of the real-life application of basically applying everything I learned in class to help my community.”

Cain said she was intrigued by the challenge and began to study stress analysis, and the engineering behind trusses and bridges.

“My study hall was at the same time as an older class

(of engineering students), so I observed them, did research on bridges and came up with final design,” she explained.

The daughter of Joseph and Ping Cain, Kathleen and her family – including older sister Patricia who graduated from St. Mary’s Ryken in 2020 and younger sister Shannon who is a junior there – are members of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Waldorf.

During the summer between her junior and senior years – while holding down a job at the summer camp hosted by St. John Francis Regis Parish in Hollywood, Maryland – Cain threw herself into the bridge rebuilding project.

“My dad is an engineer, and originally I was going to go with wood and make a simple A-frame,” she said. “My dad had aluminum on hand, so we decided to do a truss-style bridge. I learned how to weld from my dad who taught me last summer.”

Cain said her father taught her tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, an arc welding process that uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode. “TIG welding holds better,” she explained. “Basically, the bridge is all made out of aluminum with wood planks because of better traction.”

She said she enlisted not only her father, but also Jonathan Smith, a St. Mary’s Ryken science and math teacher, and some of her friends from the engineering class to assist with the project.

Kathleen Cain, a member of the Class of 2023 at St. Mary’s Ryken High School, enlists the help of some friends, her father and teacher Jonathan Smith to construct an aluminum bridge for use by the high school’s cross country team. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s Ryken High School)

Cain and her team began working on the bridge last summer and continued through the first half of this school year. They finished most of it by January, but did not put on the finishing touches or let anyone walk on it until after the school administered AP exams this past spring.

In addition to her bridge building, Cain played vastity tennis all four years at St. Mary’s Ryken and was team captain since sophomore year. She played soccer during her sophomore year, and was on the school’s swim team her junior and senior years.

She was also a member of the National Honor Society, played alto saxophone in the school band and tutored students in and out of school. She graduated with a 4.5 grade point average.

Kathleen Cain attaches wood planks to the bridge she built to provide better traction for the runners. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s Ryken High School)

The experience of building the bridge, Cain noted, will serve her well in the fall. She will attend Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and she plans to major in mechanical engineering or statistics and data science.

“I am just very fortunate to go to a school like this,” Cain said of her time at St Mary’s Ryken. “I feel like the teachers and coaches understood the stress I was under and made things doable for me. I appreciate their willingness to help me and make sure I reach my full potential while doing well.”

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