- Students in middle school (grades six through eight) and high school (grades nine through 12) participate in the basswood bridge building event at regional SECME Olympiad competitions. High school students who place first or second at regional events move on to the International Bridge Contest. Regional SECME Olympiad competitions take place in April, followed by the International Bridge Building Contest in May. Three members comprise a bridge-building team, but only one representative from each winning team attends the international competition.
- The SECME basswood bridge building event follows the material and construction guidelines set out each year by the International Bridge Building Committee. Participants build model bridges using the official basswood provided by the committee along with any commonly available standard adhesive. Construction regulations vary year to year, but all bridges must conform to standard weight, length, height, width, gap span and loading plane measurements.
- On the day of the competition, teams take their preconstructed bridges to the competition site. With SECME judges present, team members evaluate their bridge's efficiency by applying a load at a designated loading point on the structure. According to the International Bridge Building Contest's rulebook, participants use a throttle device to regulate a flow of sand from a reservoir tank into a loading bucket attached to their bridge. Participants continue to add sand to the loading bucket until their bridge fails or they surpass the maximum load established by the Bridge Committee.
- SECME judges compare each team's bridge against the International Bridge Building Contest's specifications for the year. Any deviations in terms of building materials or construction guidelines result in disqualification from the competition. Judges score the remaining bridges based on their load capacity, with bridges that have a higher load capacity receiving higher scores.
- Bridge models used in the SECME competition represent scaled-down versions of real-world bridges. Just as engineers create aesthetically pleasing, full-scale bridges capable of carrying a traveling load, participants in the bridge building event find a balance between form and function. By designing structures that adhere to competition specifications, team members gain hands-on knowledge of engineering principles and experience the fundamentals of physics in action.