Team. University of Wisconsin team nailed third
straight canoe building and racing title.
contests are more than an opportunity for students to socialize.
Participants in the recent National Concrete Canoe Competition
and the National Student Steel Bridge Competition relish the
chance to show off their engineering practice chops on real-life
challenges, with changing rules and parameters that confound
students each year.
"In the real world, theres
standards for everything you build, so this forces us to be
creative and think," says Jaime Kurten, a captain of
the University of Wisconsin-Madison team, which on June 27,
became the first college team to win the canoe-building contest
three years in a row. The competition, sponsored by the American
Society of Civil Engineers, had the 21 teams design, construct
and race their concrete creations.
This years event, held at
Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., required students to use
15% ordinary sand in their aggregate mixture and either recycled
coal fly ash or ground granulated blast furnace slag for up
to 25% of binding material. The mixture made for heavier boats,
which prompted teams to use carbon fiber as a lighter weight
strengthening substitute for wire mesh or steel, says Dennis
Martenson, a senior project manager at Camp Dresser &
McKee, Cambridge, Mass., and ASCE president-elect.
The U.S. Military Academy team
only made it to fifth place, but it impressed the judges enough
to win a separate award for materials innovation, says Brad
Putnam, a Clemson professor. West Points decision to
heat Styrofoam in the canoe aggregate mix allowed its team
"to meet mixture degradation requirements while coming
up with a new, lightweight option," he says.
Bridge building team tackled new specs.
Mike Shydlowski, president and
CEO of Degussa Admixtures Inc., the competitions Cleveland-based
lead sponsor, says contest participation can add to graduates
resumes. "The students in this [event] have a large advantage
over students who have never worked with new technologies
and new admixtures," he says. "These students understand
the possibilitiesthat nothing is out of reach."
Shydlowski admits the competition has become an important
"recruiting tool" for his firm, and likely others.
The steel bridge competition, held
at the University of Central Florida in Orlando in late May,
included 11 rule changes, says Kevin Beery, a participant
from the University of Florida, Gainesville, and team captain
for the 2006 competition. Among other things, students had
to design their bridges with one 21.5-ft clear span instead
of two as in previous years. "It made things a lot more
difficult. We had to go with a truss design, as opposed to
a single-beam or girder design," he says. "This
adds more weight to the bridge, but also offers better stability
and decreases deflection."
Students also note some non-technical
contest benefits, including experience in time management,
multi-tasking, team communication and leadership. Beery says
his team spent more than 1,500 hours fabricating its contest
entry. "All the milling and welding was done by students,"
says teammate Andre Tousignant. "I wouldnt have
an internship, contacts or communication skills if I didnt
compete in steel bridge." One canoe contest judge notes
that women participants better communications skills
even helped them outpaddle the men.
And teams that lost points for
mistaken dimensions or directions, "they learn a lot
about the reality of failure," adds ASCEs Martenson.