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UMass Lowell Concrete Canoe Shines in National Contest

Students Get Good Grades in Championship for Design, Construction of Vessel

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Contacts:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell students have won high marks in a national engineering contest that challenged them to build and race a canoe they made entirely of concrete.

Finishing eighth overall, the UMass Lowell team placed third in the “final product” category for the design, engineering and construction of its canoe, and fifth in the women’s endurance race in the national Concrete Canoe Competition championships. Twenty-two teams from universities across North America participated in the finals, a three-day event from June 20 through June 22 presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Student teams from 215 universities entered the competition at its start. UMass Lowell was the only institution from New England and Northeast Canada to reach the championships, having earned the right to compete after besting teams from 10 schools in their regional round in April.  

The competition requires both academic and athletic skills. Students must make the concrete from which the canoes are built, construct and decorate the vessel, race it and make sure it does not break during transport to the competition or when it is put to the test in the water.

“The contest offers students a chance to apply what they are learning in the classroom in a hands-on, real-world way. The team worked very hard this year and students were very professional throughout the whole competition,” said Derry, N.H., resident Gary Howe, who is the team’s adviser, director of the university’s civil and environmental laboratories and a UMass Lowell graduate.   

UMass Lowell competed with a canoe that weighs 146 pounds and is 19 feet, 10 inches in length. Designed to be sleek and durable, the boat is 26.8 inches at its widest point and is 13.9 inches deep. The canoe is adorned with colorful scenes painted by teammates that depict images from the 1950s, a theme students chose to pay tribute to hotrods from the era that were custom-built, iconic racing machines, akin to what the students achieved in designing and constructing the canoe.

“Our canoe has been carefully shaped and sanded, meticulously painted and cared for with the utmost caution. That attention to detail shows up in the canoe’s smooth finish, clean lines and minimal damage after a lot of handling and miles of travel,” said Maureen Kelly, the team’s leader and an Ashburnham resident who graduated from UMass Lowell in May with a degree in civil engineering.

At nationals, students were judged on their “final product” – the design, engineering, aesthetic and construction quality of their canoe – as well as on students’ oral and written presentations about their work and how the canoes performed in men’s, women’s and co-ed races. To qualify to race, canoes had to pass a “swamp test” that showed they could rise to the water’s surface after being submerged while weighed down by 50 pounds of sandbags. Teams also had to ensure the canoe remained intact as it was transported to the host site and throughout a day of vigorous racing.

“A third-place finish in the ‘final product’ category says a lot about the quality of our canoe, the centerpiece of the competition. Without it, there is nothing to race, write about or present to an audience,” said Kelly, who noted UMass Lowell faculty members also attended the competition to support the team.

Kelly paddled to fifth place in the women’s endurance race – the best finish for UMass Lowell in the racing categories – alongside teammate Danielle DeWolfe of Ashland, who also recently graduated with a degree in civil engineering.

This is the second time in three years UMass Lowell has qualified for nationals and has placed among the contest’s top 10, this year finishing ahead of peers from 14 universities across the country. The University of Florida won the competition and California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo finished second.

UMass Lowell students mix the concrete, design and build a new canoe for the contest each year, often constructing a second canoe so they can practice racing without damaging the boat they will present in competition. It is a months-long endeavor students take on as an extracurricular project through the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

Leading the team with Kelly was Ryan Walker, a civil engineering major from Pepperell. Allan Bassett of Barre, Joseph Benoit of Quincy and Zachary Greene of Haverhill – UMass Lowell alumni who have competed in the contest in previous years – also lent their support. Faculty member and UMass Lowell graduate Edward Hajduk of Arlington serves as the adviser to the university’s ASCE student chapter to which all team members belong.

UMass Lowell’s student team members and their hometowns are:

  • Ashburnham – Maureen Kelly
  • Ashland – Christopher Cantin, Danielle DeWolfe
  • Billerica – Zachary McDonough
  • Canton – Patrick Raistrick
  • Clinton –Taylor Moylan
  • Dracut – Jonathan Nadeau
  • Holliston – Nicholas Stillwell
  • Lowell – David Salyer
  • Lynn – Jeffrey Beck
  • Methuen – Justin O'Connor
  • Millis – Cassandra Piorkowski
  • Natick – Shiv Bhardwaj
  • North Grafton – Jeffrey Bruso
  • Peabody – Jesse Merchant
  • Pepperell – Ryan Walker
  • Plymouth – Nicholas Brisbois
  • Saugus – Mark Procopio
  • Tyngsborough – Cynthia Chestnut
  • Westford – Ian Sherriff
  • Woburn – Rebecca Gonsalves-Lamontagne

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.