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University Hosts Steel Bridge, Concrete Canoe Competitions

UMass Lowell Canoe Wins Second Place

UMass Lowell Image
UMass Lowell team members race their self-designed and built concrete canoe, dubbed 'Vanguard,”'on Bare Hill Pond in Harvard on April 27.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

UMass Lowell hosted this year’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) steel bridge and concrete canoe regional competitions on April 26 and 27 at the University’s Tsongas Center in Lowell and at Bare Hill Pond in Harvard, respectively. The events were part of the 2014 New England ASCE Student Conference. Joining UMass Lowell were 18 collegiate teams from across the Northeastern United States and Canada.

“This was the first time in recent memory that both competitions were hosted together in the Northeast by a single institution — UMass Lowell — on the same weekend,” says civil engineering Lecturer Edward Hajduk, who is the faculty adviser for the University’s ASCE Student Chapter. “Traditionally, two schools would host the annual contests separately and on different weekends.”

Laval University from Québec City took home the top honors in the concrete canoe competition. UMass Lowell placed second and Northeastern University third.

In the steel bridge competition, MIT won first place, followed by the University of Connecticut and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Check out photos from both competitions in our photo gallery.

Lighter Than Water 

In the concrete canoe competition, students raced their self-designed and built canoes on the water. To qualify for racing, the canoes had to pass a “swamp” test in which the boats were filled with water and pushed below the surface; they must resurface on their own. The entries were graded based on the quality of the product, its engineering design, presentation and aesthetics as well as the race results.

This year’s University concrete canoe team members are Jonathan Ernst (the team’s project manager), David Nader, Allan Bassett, Zachary McDonough, Julie Eaton, Jonathan Nadeau, Timothy Roberts, Zachary Greene, Michael Sprague, Brendan Sprague, Sarah Krawiec, Cassandra Piorkowski, Jesse Merchant, Ryan Walker, Nicholas Brisbois, Joseph Benoit, Mark Procopio, James McDermott, Natalie Melkonian, Rebecca Gonsalves, Patrick Raistrick, Zachary Morris, Jeffrey Bruso, Sarah Shaw and Maureen Kelly. Civil engineering laboratories director Gary Howe is the team adviser.

UMass Lowell won first place at last year’s regional competition, beating perennial powerhouse Laval University. The team advanced to the national competition that summer in Homer Lake, Ill., finishing sixth against 22 other teams from across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. 

Building a Scale Model Bridge 

The steel bridge competition, sponsored by the ASCE and the American Institute of Steel Construction, challenged students to design and fabricate a scale model of a steel bridge according to the specifications in the contest’s rule book, and then construct the model on-site during the competition. The bridges were judged based on construction speed and economy, lightness, stiffness and structural efficiency as well as overall performance and poster presentation.

In addition to being a member of the concrete canoe team, James McDermott is the project manager for this year’s steel bridge team. His teammates include Patrick Raistrick, Ben Levesque, Nick Brisbois, Mark Procopio, Mathew Schwartz, David Salyer, Tim Parrow, Joe Abesamra, Matt Morris, Kristin Bartone, Jessica Morais and Utku Basak. Civil engineering Prof. Susan Faraji is the team’s faculty adviser.

Although UMass Lowell’s entry did not qualify (it exceeded the maximum allowable deflection), the bridge was able to support the 2,500 pounds of load placed on it during the competition. This is quite an accomplishment considering the team had only less than a week to design and build a brand-new bridge to replace its original entry, which experienced some last-minute technical problems.

“The UMass Lowell teams worked hard all year to design and fabricate the bridge and the canoe,” says McDermott, a senior from Tewksbury. “We were really excited to compete and see our hard work pay off with the final products. Competing against other top universities is a great way to demonstrate the high quality of our University’s civil engineering program and to showcase how much each student has learned. It was also a fun and exciting way to meet with and talk to fellow engineering students from surrounding schools.”

He adds: “The two projects had been a great hands-on, real-world experience — something that we could not get in a classroom setting.”

“The competitions teach students valuable lessons in leadership and teamwork,” says Faraji. “They also boost the students’ self-confidence and offer them the experience of working under a tight deadline and budget. These will help them tremendously in their professional careers.” 

Civil engineering seniors Gregory McNeal and Lora Sitha are the co-organizers of the 2014 New England ASCE Student Conference.  

“The success of the conference is a testament to the dedication, enthusiasm and organizational skills of Greg and Lora and their team of volunteers,” says Hajduk.