E-WEEK: Rutgers students celebrate Engineers Week by building cardboard canoes


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Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Christine Monroy, left, and Emily Barnes, right, successfully made it across the course, being one of the few teams to do so.


Using only cardboard, trash bags and duct tape, Rutgers engineers had one hour to build fully functional canoes for a race across the Patio Pool in the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center on Busch campus.

On Friday, Feb. 26, the annual Cardboard Canoe Races saw its biggest turnout yet in its fifth year. Twenty-two pairs of engineers lined the hall outside the pool entrance, surrounded by scraps of cardboard boxes, empty rolls of duct tape and the canoe creations of their competitors.

Participants came from several different backgrounds, from undergraduate students to professors, deans and alumni, said Taylor Au, a School of Engineering junior and event coordinator.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re chemical, biomedical, materials science or industrial — all the different majors learn how to problem solve and think critically," she said. "This (task) is (about) thinking outside the box because cardboard is probably the worst material you can use to build a boat."

With the nature of cardboard in mind, some participants brainstormed ideas beforehand on how to stay afloat with such an unideal material for a boat.

“We did some research, but the videos we saw — they all had high-quality cardboard. Coming in here, when we saw the 'low-quality' cardboard (from thin shipping boxes), we needed a new last-minute design,” said Sonica Khatri, a senior civil engineering student.

After the one-hour building session, the teams filed into the pool area, carrying their canoes proudly over their heads. Two teams competed in each race. Those who made it across the pool were timed, while judges assessed designs.

Among the swimmers was Ahmed AbdRabou, a biomedical engineering junior. His canoe flipped over early into the race, forcing his team to swim the rest of the way. Planning ahead for the event is necessary, he said.

“I’d (focus) on more enforcement through the base of the canoe, trying to plan ahead because in past years I hadn’t planned ahead. I did research about 30 minutes before, which works for my exams but not for this,” he said.

But winning the race was not everyone’s goal. Keon Kim, a first-year electrical and computer engineering student, had a different strategy to win the “Titanic Award” for the most theatrical capsize.

“Our strategy was to sink. We’re both big people. We weren’t going to make it very far. We built the boat and said, 'Okay. We need to make it far enough so we can do the arm pose (from the Titanic),'” Kim said.

Though they paid tribute to Jack and Rose, the “Titanic Award” instead went to team "Dhoom 4," who were able to pose with a salute while sinking backwards off their canoe.

The "Cruisin' in Style Award" went to the team with the most flair. Philip Whong and Matthew Sze, both School of Engineering sophomores, brought pointed bamboo hats and named themselves, "Fresh Off the Canoe" in their attempt to earn this award.

“Our first plan was to stand on the boat and actually look like Vietnamese fisherman. But that went bad because our boat looked like Swiss cheese,” Whong said. “I think we may (have been) up for a style award. We were pretty fresh.”

The award was eventually granted to team "Spaghetti Katz," who decorated their canoe with a sign of their team name and had matching cat costumes. Speed was compromised for style, said Andrea Nguyen, a School of Engineering junior and one-half of "Spaghetti Katz."

“I think (our canoe) was too narrow so we had trouble balancing. Next time we’ll make it wider. We ran out of tape very early on because we put a lot on the base so that it wouldn’t break. Otherwise, the structure was good. It didn’t buckle,” Nguyen said.

Earning the award felt "amazing," said Dianne Le, a School of Engineering junior and the other half of the team. The team had designed prototype boats before the actual contest to ensure theirs would be successful.

"We followed one saying, which is 'failure to plan is planning to fail,'" she said. "We literally prototyped a mini-boat last week as well as a large-sized one yesterday. The one ... we prototyped yesterday ran into a lot of issues so we thought it was good we (made it)."

The “Fast and Furious Award” went to the team who crossed the pool the quickest. This turned out to be Lydia Prendergast, the assistant dean for Academic Services at the School of Engineering, and Cecilia Vargas, the assistant dean for the Dean of the School of Engineering.

“You want to have bigger surface area on the bottom so it will be more buoyant," Vargas said. "Make the sides high so when you go in it won’t sink too much. And then you want to put some bracing along the bottom and the sides for buckling."

The energy at the event was "infectious," Le said. She plans to compete again next year because of how much fun she had last week.

“It’s for free, and there’s food and friends. What else do you need? It’s a great experience,” Au said.

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Allison Bautista is a School of Nursing junior. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @allisontargum for more.


Allison Bautista

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