By: Heidi Douglas, Director of Alumni Relations, UConn School of Engineering
Every spring, eighteen American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student conferences are held across the country with ambitious agendas including business meetings, professional/technical presentations, social activities, competitions, and awards banquets. At this year’s New England student conference, UConn came away with second place finishes in both the Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge competitions.
There are some similarities, and a lot of differences between these two UConn ACSE student teams and their competitions. Both events were held at the University of Vermont at the end of April competing against nearly an identical roster of participating schools. However, building a bridge is not the same as floating a canoe and, this year, inclement weather through a monkey wrench into canoe race day.
Dr. Kay Wille, assistant professor in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department, advises the Concrete Canoe Association, the student organization dedicated to designing, building, and competing. This year’s team comprised about 25 students in total, with 18 undergrads actively involved in the competition. Concrete canoe engineering facilities are housed in the Longley Building on the Mansfield Depot Campus.
Each year the rules and regulations governing the design and competition change a bit and a canoe is built from scratch. This year, UMass Lowell finished a very respectable 3rd with their second attempt; they started fabrication very late and the first broke, but their second was “an amazing canoe,” according to UConn team president Chris Schwarz.
First place finisher in both the Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge competitions was Université Laval. A French-language, public research university in Quebec City, Université Laval is always in the winner’s circle. Ranked among the top ten Canadian universities in terms of research funding, budgets allocated to both ASCE student organizations are very generous.
The canoe competition is two days. The first consists of a poster session, boat exhibition, and cross section display. The second day is usually race day, but this was not a usual year. Snow melt, rain, and cold created a hazardous situation and the races were cancelled. Rain or not, UConn’s second place finish is a school best and one for the record books.
As opposed to an 18-foot canoe that arrives at competition complete, an integral aspect of the Steel Bridge contest involves assembly. That certainly resonates considering the recent collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge engineered using accelerated bridge construction (ABC), where bridges are prefabricated and quickly moved into place.
UConn Steel Bridge Club advisor and alumnus Michael Culmo, Chief Technical Officer at CME Associates, Inc., and an ABC expert focuses on constructability. A team advisor for eighteen years, Mike’s guidance and commitment are invaluable for the team who, according to president Jordan Vogt, struggles to recruit lower class members. The younger students feel they lack the advanced engineering courses necessary to design and build the bridge – in reality, that is not the case. Even first year students can play a significant role in the fabrication and assembly of the bridge. This year’s team finished the year with five active members, four of whom worked on build. Their fabrication shop is also housed at the Depot Campus, complete with all the welding and cutting equipment needed to build a steel bridge from scratch.
The Steel Bridge competition is judged on several criteria including time required to assemble the bridge, bridge weight, and deflection. There’s also a poster session, display highlighting bridge esthetics, and presentation of a paper on ethics. Last year’s treasurer and incoming president Melissa Hernandez delivered the ethics presentation and explained although not used for scoring, it was required to attend nationals. At end of the day, there’s one overarching criterion for winning – lowest cost.
This year’s bridge was another impressive bridge in a long line of quality UConn efforts. Spanning 19 feet and weighing a mere 160 pounds, it was able to support a 2500 pound weight with less than ½” of deflection.
For the Concrete Canoe competition, 25 schools, including 19 that qualified through regionals, are headed to the national competition in July hosted by San Diego State University. UConn was edged out by Université Laval and didn’t win one of the six wild card spots.
The Steel Bridge team’s 2nd place finish in a field of 15 teams qualified them to compete at nationals. They’re on the road headed for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to compete this Memorial Day weekend against 42 other qualifiers.
Congratulations to both of our ASCE teams and best of luck to our Steel Bridge team this weekend!