Floating a concrete canoe in water with people in it might sound like either a joke or a metaphor for an impossible task, but to UT’s CEE students involved in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter, it’s just one of the required assignments for that organization’s annual competition. Every year, UT competes with other ASCE student chapters at universities across the South in a range of competition areas, including the much anticipated concrete canoe and steel bridge design project competitions.
Throughout the year, the student chapter will host professional speakers, events and address community service needs. However, the chapter’s biggest highlight is the annual conference, which students spend a year preparing for in both the concrete canoe and steel bridge projects. To maximize the challenge, the competition guidelines are altered every year, helping to spur ingenuity and innovation.
The concrete canoe team is tasked with designing a buoyant, quick canoe constructed entirely of concrete materials, while developing a theme to capture a modern aspect of engineering. In 2015, the team placed 5th overall out of 26 teams and this year hopes to make it to the top three.
The steel bridge team is assigned with building a 20-foot steel bridge that will be assembled during a timed competition and then undergo various tests of its strength. “The most exciting part about the steel bridge competition is seeing the design come to life,” says Mark Nichols, co-captain. “After spending months sketching on whiteboards, drawing in AutoCAD, and cutting and welding steel, it’s incredibly rewarding to watch the team’s hard work pay off.”
The goal of the parent professional ASCE organization, which represents more than 140,000 civil engineers nationwide, is to advance the profession by advocating for infrastructural and environmental stewardship and encourage life-long learning. Student chapters like the one at UT are integral to its future by helping to inspire young engineers and build camaraderie.
This year’s students will travel to Tuscaloosa on March 10-12 to compete for top placements as they exhibit their engineering prowess in four areas of competition. The concrete canoe will be judged on its 1) display, 2) design, 3) oral presentation, and 4) races, of which there are five categories. The steel bridge will be judged in areas of 1) weight 2) structural integrity 3) construction speed and 4) display. The last time the UT ASCE chapter placed in the top three was in 2012 when it came in first among 26 schools. The team once again hopes to make the top three in this heated completion.
Even though the application of design and construction is the most visible aspect of the projects, the whole process of preparation also includes fundraising and grant writing, detailed project management, technically complex design and structural analysis, incorporation of sustainability initiatives, and performance testing.
“Many of our team captains have been working diligently since August in planning, testing, design, and construction of the various projects,” says Liam Weaver, the ASCE student chapter president. “My role is to push our officers and team members to challenge themselves to see what amazing solutions they can create. I can say confidently that I am extremely proud of the incredible work our teams have produced and cannot wait to travel to Tuscaloosa and show our competitive Volunteer spirit!”
The ASCE student chapter faculty advisor, Dr. John Ma, believes that the student participation in this competition helps them become more well-rounded engineers and individuals. “Student involvement in ASCE is a great benefit to them because it helps them gain leadership skills, which is something we as faculty cannot teach,” he says. “Because of the teamwork, commitment and communication involved, they also get to know each other and become better friends through the process.”