WSU places fourth at the 2019 ASCE Regional Concrete Canoe Competition

The annual Concrete Canoe Competitions has been an American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) tradition since the early 1970s. Each year, university students from all over the country team up to construct a 20-foot, functioning canoe entirely out of concrete.

This year, Wayne State took fourth place in the 2019 regional competition, putting the university in the top half of teams. Although WSU won’t be heading to nationals this year, this was a vast improvement from last year’s seventh place. The rankings, from first to last, were as follows: Michigan Technological University, University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, Ohio Northern University, Lawrence Technological University, University of Detroit Mercy and University of Toledo.

The three-day competition was held at University of Michigan’s campus and consisted of four portions: a technical paper presentation that incorporates the ASCE Code of Ethics, a final product display based on design aesthetics, a final presentation that details the construction process and the race to test overall functionality.

“We had an amazing team. We all worked really, really well together. That, and the person/hours breakdown that goes into the canoe is massive: We counted 2,200 hours, but it was probably even more than that,” said second-year member Shellie Zamponi. “A lot of people think we’re just going to put a canoe in the water and race it, but there’s a lot more behind it.”

Due to weather conditions, the race portion of the competition — set to take place just north of Ann Arbor on Independence Lake — has been canceled for the last four years. Proper racing conditions require the air and water temperature to equal a combined 85 degrees, and unfortunately for all the schools in the competition’s north central region, the weather seldom cooperates. The race portion excluded, WSU scored fourth in every category: final product, presentation and design report.

“We figure a lot of our members are going to be doing this again, and they already know a lot of the rules, so that should help us improve in the ranking for next season,” said Aladeen Alghazeer, second-year member and secretary of WSU’s ASCE chapter.

The 2019 competition rules and regulations book consisted of 94 pages. Before any planning can commence, the book must be read in full, and even the slightest error can eliminate a team in the technical categories. As a result, when a team finds a method that works, they tend to stick with it and make only minor adjustments; in other words, a step outside of the box is a slippery slope, which is why construction methods across teams are often identical.

The most commonly used construction method involves first building a mold to form the base of the canoe. Once the base is shaped, team members work together to strategically layer concrete by hand, smoothing out the surface as they go. When the 2019 WSU team realized they would have fewer members than usual, they decided to get creative; Instead of just one mold, they decided to build a second.

“It was a big innovation to use two molds. Most schools were confused, like, ‘How did you do that?’” said first-year member Hank Fournier. “Other schools have huge teams, and they are able to actually layer on the concrete. With the second mold, less hands are needed.”

Wayne State University is set to host the regional Concrete Canoe Competition in 2021. Weather permitting, the race portion will take place on Belle Isle. Since the majority of the current team will have graduated by then, this is an ideal time for freshmen and sophomores to get involved.

“We have really good momentum for this next team because they will have a ton of carryover membership, carryover funding, contacts for donations, and all of the things we’ve built this year that they can use again,” said second-year member Alex Bacon.

Interested in joining the team to help win the gold next year? Warriors from all departments and colleges are welcome! For more information about the 2020 Concrete Canoe Competition, contact WSU ASCE at asce.wsudetroit@gmail.com.

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