Team sets plans for concrete canoe contest


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Photo by Aleksi Tzatzev |

Members of the University’s Concrete Canoe team mix concrete last night at the Civil Engineering Lab on Busch campus that will be used during the annual engineering competition against schools across the nation and Canada.


Members of the University Concrete Canoe team engineered the final version of a concrete mix that will be used to build a canoe last night at the Civil Engineering Lab on Busch campus.

The team, part of the University chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, applied academic knowledge to practical design as they began planning their own canoe in September for the 25th annual engineering competition.

“It’s kind of stretching the limits of concrete,” said Zeeshan Ghanchi, co-captain of the team. “Most people think concrete is just a building material — heavy and hard to use — so we are trying to redefine it in a way.”

The team made it to the National Concrete Canoe Competition for the past two years after advancing from the regional round, said Ghanchi, a School of Engineering junior.

“The competition is getting tougher, especially in our region,” he said. “We compete with schools from Manhattan, so we compete with some pretty tough schools, including [architecture and engineering school] Cooper Union.”

Canadian universities have also participated since the competition’s inception in the mid-1980s, according to the ASCE website.

Each year, the team tries to design a mix that is as light and strong as possible, Ghanchi said. The judges grade the canoe’s design, presentation, a technical paper and an actual race at the host university.

The competition this year will be held at the University of Nevada in Reno.

“All the people that are here tonight are very dedicated,” said Jamie Lesko, the other co-captain. “One of the goals we’ve had is to have as many underclassmen as possible … because in class, they never get the hands-on experience.”

Lesko said the Concrete Canoe team gives students the hands-on knowledge rather than academic abstracts. It teaches ideas such as mix design, testing, analysis and application.

“That’s the thing about the concrete canoe. It really involves every single part of engineering, whether it is structural, mix analysis and even as far as geotech,” he said.

These future engineers also apply their artistic side with the canoe, as a quarter of the grade is based on design, Lesko said.

The national competition includes Canadian universities, which have virtually unlimited budgets, he said. Design is often a deciding factor between first and second place.

The team’s design theme is the Jersey Devil this year, inspired by the University’s connection to the Pine Barrens in southern parts of the New Jersey, he said.

A majority of the students are in their first year with the team.

Anthony Marrero, a first-year team member, said he joined because it allows him to experience civil engineering first-hand rather than through the classroom.

“I wanted to get hands on with something I’m going to be doing in the future,” said Marrero, a School of Engineering senior. “I wanted to experience working as a team, working with concrete and achieving a simple goal.”

He said the team has built a 5-foot-long Styrofoam canoe, which is used as the base for testing concrete mixes.

“Concrete gets stronger as time goes, so we’ll maybe test it next week,” Marrero said.

Mark Rohmeyer, a School of Engineering senior, said he joined because it allowed him to get hands-on experience and take his mind off school.

“We learn about all this stuff in class and now we actually use it like a real world application,” Rohmeyer said.

Matthew Rembish, a School of Engineering senior, also in his first year with the team, said he wished he joined earlier in his college career.

“I’m kind of upset that I didn’t do it sooner because I really enjoy it,” Rembish said. “I do like working in a team and it’s really good experience. I’d definitely tell anyone who can to join.”

The regional competition begins in the spring semester, April 20 to 22, but Ghanchi said there is more work to be done. In the last meetings of this semester the mix will be ready, and over winter break team members may apply it to a Styrofoam skeleton.


By Aleksi Tzatzev

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