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ASCE Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge
BY KAIYAN SHI & JIAYI CHEN

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ABOVE: The UNL ASCE Concrete Canoe team poses with their canoe, "The Flying V", at a competition.
Photo Courtesy: Cassie Vogel

The steel bridge team and the concrete canoe team of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) University of Nebraska-Lincoln chapter busily prepared for the annual regional competition in April. According to their schedules, both teams completed their designs before spring break and started the actual building immediately after team members came back to campus.

When asked about the biggest disadvantage encountered during their preparation, the two captains both mentioned a problem of lacking people and time. Even though first-year engineering students don’t have enough knowledge to work in designing and modeling, they are still welcome to join and take part in the workshop portion. This offers a great chance for freshmen eager to do something more connected to engineering than textbooks and lectures.

ASCE at UNL is an organization for engineering students who are interested in civil engineering. The steel bridge team and the concrete canoe team have attended the annual competition, held by national ASCE, for decades and earned great achievements.

Each team is required to attend its regional competition, and the winner advances to the national competition. The rules of both competitions are posted on the official website of ASCE in January every year with various restrictions in order to inspire brand new designs. When they encounter difficulties during preparation, they can contact the board and ask questions. This competition provides college students an excellent platform to use and evaluate their knowledge from textbook and lectures. They can get a quick glimpse of their future roles after graduation. Moreover, every team member can build experience in team working and practice the ability of cooperating and communicating, which are priceless for a future engineer.

The captain of the steel bridge team, Mike Florek, worked hard to turn their design from two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional reality. As a senior civil engineering student, he has spent almost all four years as a member of ASCE and enjoys a busy life between study and preparing for the competition. Florek joined ASCE at the very beginning of his freshman year and has participated in the steel bridge program all four years.

“I joined ASCE because it’s a very interesting group. They have interesting speakers here every month. I joined the steel bridge team because it’s a really cool project.”

When talking about the biggest difficulty the team had this year, Florek brought up the serious situation of lacking members. Currently, there are only seven students in his team and every member is taking a large load. Three members are focusing on designing and the other four mainly work on actually building. As the captain, Florek needs to take care of finding financial and technical support from local companies. For the project, which covers a period of several months and a large amount of work, the number of team members can be a significant factor on the team’s performance in competition. Florek commented on the result of last year’s competition: “Other teams had better designs. They have more time to work on it. They have more money to put in it. They just have more people.”

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ABOVE: The UNL canoe “Black Pearl” competes in a race.
Photo Courtesy: Cassie Vogel

Cassie Vogel, a senior in civil engineering, is currently captain of the concrete canoe team. The UNL concrete canoe team, with a history of over 40 years, has reached many great achievements. Working as the captain of a team with about 25 members, Vogel feels comfortable with her busy schedule. “The busier I get, the better my work can be,” she said.

Compared to the steel bridge team, Vogel hasn’t met with timing problems, but the financial situation related to the world economy is making this year’s competition harder than usual.

The canoe is required to be around 20 feet in length, and the materials that can be used are mainly concrete, steel and glass. Therefore, the strength of the canoe is highly dependent on the quality of its materials. Vogel mentioned the accident they had in last year’s competition. The UNL concrete canoe team performed perfectly from the beginning and kept going at a satisfactory level until the last turn, when their canoe broke apart suddenly without any signal, and that accident dragged them down to fourth place. Moreover, the 20-foot long canoe can only be transported in full size by truck, and the long time driving the truck can become quite a menace.

The two competitions held by ASCE annually both require a large variety of various knowledge and skills, which is much more than civil engineering. For example, on the UNL concrete canoe team, there are two managers in charge of the technical area and financial needs separately. The older students mainly work on designing and calculating, and the freshmen get training and learning from workshop. There is also a required report, explaining their design in writing.

“Students who interested in civil engineering are welcome to join anytime,” Florek said. “No matter what year you are in, there is always something you can do.”