David Nader, Civil Engineering
“I feel well-rounded, and have exposure to every facet of civil engineering.”
David Nader is a concrete connoisseur. “When I go to a parking garage, I don’t just see concrete walls. I see the forms and structures in the foundations. It drives my family crazy,” he says. Traditionally composed of sand, rocks and cement, concrete is not particularly well-suited to withstand tensile stresses—the kind of stresses that would, say, be on a canoe under full paddle. So what better challenge for civil engineering
students than to design and race a concrete canoe? That’s what the American Society of Civil Engineers thought. Their annual challenge involves every aspect of civil engineering and since the specifications change each year, student teams have to keep their pencils sharp.
As the mix captain for UMass Lowell’s 2012 concrete canoe team, David is charged with devising a formula that can withstand being molded, transported and paddled—and stay afloat. He is unwilling to divulge details about this year’s mix except to say that it might contain glass microspheres in place of sand, since these have a lower density than water. “I’m using skills from my classes, but I’m also learning a whole new set of skills,” he says. “Actually doing it tests your knowledge and lets you own it.”
Although the win eluded the 2011 concrete canoe team
, which placed third in the New England regional competition, David took away something more valuable: a new perspective on his education. “Not every team was pushing the limits of what’s possible, but we were,” he says, noting last year’s innovative gunwale design and use of smog-eating titanium dioxide in the mix. “I was able to discuss what we were doing at a high level with members of the winning teams and realized how much I've learned and how well our school stacks up against other engineering programs. I have so much pride in my education.”
David hopes that his experience will help the concrete canoe team achieve first or second place in the regional competition and earn a shot at the nationals. Afterward, he plans to get a master’s degree and work as a geotechnical engineer specializing in foundations.
David transferred from Middlesex Community College. When UMass Lowell professors visited his intro to engineering class, he decided civil engineering would be a good fit. “It’s very much a community atmosphere within the department,” he says. Teamwork is built into the curriculum, which makes it easy for students to learn from each other. But it’s his professors who have had the biggest impact on David. “All of my professors have gone out of their way to explain things,” he says. “All of them have real-world experience, so they can talk about different applications of what we are learning, what it’s really like on a job site and the human factor that’s involved in any project.”
As a result, David feels ready to apply his education in a job. “I have experience not just with the theoretical, but with the hands on as well. I feel well-rounded, and have exposure to every facet of civil engineering,” he says. “That’s valuable, since I’ll always be working as part of an interdisciplinary team. I’m ready to apply what I know in the workplace. I love the idea of one day being able to look at something really large and say, ‘I had a hand in that.’ ”