Engineering students participate in regional concrete canoe contest

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

Only they would think concrete is the best building material for a canoe.

They’re civil engineers.

This weekend, members of SDSU’s American Society of Civil Engineers [ASCE] student chapter headed to Platteville, Wis., to enter the regional concrete canoe competition. The group tied for second with the Platteville team, coming in behind Iowa State University.

Chuck Tiltrum, adviser of SDSU’s ASCE chapter, explained his reaction.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “It’s great to be competitive, and it’s rewarding to see all the efforts and time cumulate in a good product, but it’s disappointing and frustrating to finish second for the third year in a row.”

In 1998 and 1999, the years before SDSU hit its second-place streak, the team had a taste of success, wining regionals and advancing to the national competition.

Winning a concrete canoe competition requires much more than making a chunk of cement buoyant.

Michael McCarty, senior and co-chair of the concrete canoe project, explained what the team was judged on.

“The points are all split down, and we’re scored on an oral presentation and a display like you’d see at the engineering expo … The final product is judged on looks and durability. There’s a design paper and races,” he said.

The five races?men’s and women’s sprints and endurance, plus a co-ed sprint, are one of SDSU’s strong points.

“We surely kick ’em on the races,” Tiltrum said. “The kids put in a lot of practice on that.”

The practice paid off. “We did real well in the races?we got first in four races, and second in one race,” Tiltrum said.

“We got second in the final product, just the judging of the canoe, and we got second on the display ? an eight-foot board with data and pictures.”

With all those high finishes, where was the team’s downfall? “We came up short on the technical presentation,” Tiltrum said. “We didn’t do as well on the paper and the oral presentation.”

The points on the final placing were close, he said, a spread of merely three points. “We’ll be interested to get the official judging results back and see where our flaws were.”

Tiltrum has ideas of how to improve for next year, from having a timelier schedule to expanding the team. “If we could just get the timeliness element to give us more time to proof and review and listen, [faculty and staff could] make suggestions,” he said.

The time factor could be improved by expanding the team. “We need more people so our three leaders can be home studying,” he said, explaining that the co-chairs of the project spend countless hours, usually every night, working on the canoe.

“The amount of time they put in at crunch time is out of proportion, and it can become mind-boggling and frustrating. We need a better time effort, more people involved.”

For those who stick with this tough competition, though, there are rewards. “For leaders it’s an undaunting task,” Tiltrum said. “You can’t appreciate the effort. It should give them skills in time management, responsibility, scheduling, time management, recruitment of help, sense of accomplishment, and if they’re coming back, loftier goals.”

That’s not all.

“Anybody who takes on responsibility and becomes a leader on something like this has an edge on future frustrations and responsibilities, and certainly has an edge on a resume,” he said.

These are some of the reasons McCarty said he has participated for three years, and why he enjoys the huge task.

“It’s a project that’s been put on by the ASCE to challenge students,” he said. “[It helps you] prepare yourself for the real world; you write a design paper, you talk to vendors, you socialize and network with other engineering students. Usually it’s a lot of fun. We have a good time doing it,” he said.