Civil engineers row to first place in concrete canoe competition

Janelle Polcyn

UT civil engineering students showed their brains and brawn by working together to build and race a concrete canoe, winning first place and an invitation to compete at a national competition in June.

The American Society for Civil Engineers hosted the Texas and Mexico regional Concrete Canoe Competition for university students from April 7–9 in Lubbock, Texas. Student teams designed and built canoes to use for the race.

“It’s a quirky thing, originally the concrete canoes were something that was done in France,” said Leslie Payne, director of students and younger members at the ASCE. “The challenge of concrete is making the right mix [because] you can’t use the same canoe over and over again. This profession is dedicated to our built environment that we so often take for granted.”

The competition encourages students to look at concrete as a material, work as a team, develop presentation skills for their projects and gain experience. The 14 teams were judged on their technical design paper, oral presentation, final product and the races. 

UT’s team was led by their captains, civil engineering junior Brenna Vonasek and senior Xavier Garza.

“The point of the concrete canoe competition is to provide students an opportunity to gain hands on experience and leadership skills by working with the concrete mix design and project management, to build awareness of the versatility of concrete and how it can be applied in innovative ways,” Garza said in an email. “Lastly, it’s fun! Not many people can say they created a canoe from concrete and raced it against other universities.”

The teams had from September to April to design and build their canoes. Teams then met at the regional competition where they presented and raced their canoes. 

“[The competition] taught me project management and organization skills that will come in handy when I become an engineer in the future,” Vonasek said in an email. “I think it’s essential to join some type of technical competition while you’re in college, whether you are a member or take on a leadership role. Engineering is pretty hands on, and Concrete Canoe really helped me apply all the knowledge I was learning in classes to something that I could see and experience. ”

Only the first place winner, repeat winners and the host from the 18 regions move on to the national competition, and the top three winners from nationals receive money for their chapter’s scholarship funds.

“It was one of the greatest feelings ever,” Garza said. “Never have I ever felt so accomplished in anything else I’ve done. Brenna and I put in our heart and soul into the project and we’re so happy it paid off.”

Students will compete at the national competition June 9–11 at UT-Tyler.