Leonardtown, Maryland – Kathleen Cain, a recent St. Mary’s Ryken High School graduate, has left a lasting legacy by constructing a bridge for the school’s cross country team. Utilizing her engineering knowledge gained from the Ryken Scholars Engineering Program, Cain replaced a previous bridge that a fallen tree had destroyed. Her dedication to applying classroom lessons to real-life community challenges has earned her recognition and admiration.

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. Credit: St. Mary’s Ryken High School

The project came to Cain’s attention during her junior year when her engineering class was approached with the issue of the cross country team needing a new bridge. Intrigued by the practical application of her knowledge to help the community, she eagerly took on the challenge. To prepare, she studied stress analysis, researched bridges, and observed older engineering students during her study hall period.

Cain, the daughter of Joseph and Ping Cain and a member of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Waldorf, enlisted the support of her family and the guidance of Jonathan Smith, a science and math teacher at St. Mary’s Ryken. During the summer between her junior and senior years, while also working at a summer camp, Cain dedicated herself to the bridge reconstruction project.

With her father’s guidance, she decided to build a truss-style bridge using aluminum, as it offered better traction. Learning TIG welding from her father, an engineer, Cain mastered the arc welding process that utilizes a non-consumable tungsten electrode. The bridge, made primarily of aluminum with wooden planks, was a testament to her newly acquired welding skills.

Kathleen Cain attaches wood planks to the bridge she built to provide better traction for the runners. Credit: St. Mary’s Ryken High School

Cain’s team, which included friends from her engineering class, worked tirelessly on the project from the previous summer through the first half of her senior year. They completed the bulk of the construction by January but refrained from adding finishing touches or allowing anyone to walk on the bridge until after the school’s AP exams in the spring.

In addition to her remarkable engineering feat, Cain actively participated in various sports and extracurricular activities throughout her high school years. She played varsity tennis for all four years, assuming the role of team captain during her sophomore year. Additionally, she played soccer during her sophomore year and joined the swim team during her junior and senior years. Cain’s dedication extended beyond athletics as she also excelled academically, being a member of the National Honor Society, playing the alto saxophone in the school band, and tutoring fellow students. Her exceptional achievements earned her a 4.5 grade point average.

Reflecting on her experience building the bridge, Cain expressed her gratitude for the support she received from the St. Mary’s Ryken community. As she prepares to embark on her next journey at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Cain plans to major in mechanical engineering or statistics and data science. She credits her time at St. Mary’s Ryken for equipping her with the necessary skills and a supportive environment that allowed her to reach her full potential while excelling academically and contributing to her community.

Kathleen Cain’s remarkable bridge construction serves as a testament to the power of education and community engagement. Her dedication and engineering prowess have left an indelible mark on St. Mary’s Ryken High School, inspiring future generations of students to pursue their passions and make a positive impact in their communities.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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