Year of preparation leads concrete canoe team to third-place regional finish

Caitlin Gailey
May 01, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State civil engineering students returned home with some hard-earned hardware after a weekend at the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Mid-Atlantic Region Student Conference. The concrete canoe team placed third overall in the competition, which ran April 7 to 9 at the University of Maryland.

The conference was divided into three parts, including an ethics paper segment, steel bridge competition and concrete canoe competition. This year, Penn State competed in the ethics paper and concrete canoe portions. Civil engineering senior Drew Bechtold was chosen to present his ethics paper and received a third-place award for his efforts.

In total, 34 Penn State students attended the conference, but preparation for the weekend began long before their trip to Maryland. 

The concrete canoe team began construction two weeks after the start of the fall semester. This yearlong process is essential in ensuring the team's success.

A recent ASCE rule change required the team to develop an entirely new concrete mix than what was used in past competitions. The team shipped pumice, a very light and porous volcanic rock, from Idaho to use as an admixture in their concrete. By the time the canoe was complete, the value of one cubic yard was worth approximately $10,000.  

“Our building process was rather aggressive in that we poured two canoes, the first in the fall semester and then the second one during the spring semester,” said Tom Skibinski, the team’s faculty adviser, in describing the construction process.

The first canoe employed methods that the team was familiar with as a fall-back in the event that the spring canoe did not meet their expectations. The second canoe was created using shotcrete for the first layer. Shotcrete is the process of spraying concrete through a hose at a high velocity onto a surface. This was the first time the team had used this process. The result was a smooth finish on the canoe’s exterior that accelerated the overall canoe fabrication.  

Canoe construction occurred at the Civil Infrastructure Test and Evaluation Laboratory, a research facility under the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

“We have been very fortunate to be allowed to use that space and the resources we have there,” said concrete canoe team co-captain and treasurer Jennifer Lynskey. 

By the time the weekend came, the team members felt prepared and were excited to compete. Saturday, the first day of the conference, included an oral presentation, artistic display and presentation of the team’s canoe. 

On Sunday, the team’s construction skills were put to the test during a race at Centennial Park, located approximately 30 minutes from the University of Maryland campus. Race day began with a swamp test to ensure the canoe’s safety before the students took it on the water. The team competed in five races in total against four other universities. The races included two female races, two male races and one co-ed race.

The weekend concluded with an awards banquet on Sunday night. The concrete canoe team placed third in every event, and earned the conference's third-place overall award.

“For our team being as young as it is, I was really happy with how we placed, and I have a lot of high hopes for the future as we get more experience,” said Lynskey. 

The team was given a plaque to recognize their participation at the conference and a trophy in the shape of a miniature paddle for their third-place achievement. 

The Mid-Atlantic conference is one of 18 ASCE student conferences held every spring. These conferences help student chapters qualify for the opportunity to compete at an ASCE-sponsored national competition. 

  • canoe on water
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • canoe on water
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • group photo
    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated May 01, 2017