Students to Represent the Northeast Region

UMass Lowell Image
The underside of UMass Lowell’s concrete canoe Backfire showcases this year’s theme of 1950's hot-rod cars. The artwork was conceived, developed and executed by the team members. Photo by Melanie Simpson.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Vowing to bring their A game to the national competition, members of the UMass Lowell concrete canoe team are ready to head to Clemson University in South Carolina to go against 22 other collegiate teams from across North Americahttps:. The contest, organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), will take place June 20 to 22.

UMass Lowell won a spot in the nationals by outscoring archrival Laval University from Quebec City during the ASCE New England regional competitions held April 24–25 and hosted by the University of Maine. Third place went to the University of Rhode Island. Ice on Maine’s Lake George prevented the students from actually racing their canoes on the water. The races comprise 25 percent of the total score, so UMass Lowell defeated Laval on two other categories — oral presentation and final product/aesthetics. (Laval won the design paper category.)

“Laval University puts together a knowledgeable and dedicated team every single year and we have a healthy respect for that,” says civil engineering senior Maureen Kelly, who is the team’s project manager and president of the UMass Lowell Concrete Canoe Club. “Their entries are top-notch aesthetically and also technically sophisticated, so any time we outscore them we’ve cleared a high bar.”

Kelly says her team is very excited, and a bit nervous, going into the nationals. “We’ll strive to do our best in the competition,” she says.

“We are extremely proud of our concrete canoe team,” says Prof. Clifford Bruell, who chairs the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. “Our students are very experienced, having competed seriously in the races over the years. Additionally, the team has put in an extraordinary amount of time and energy in preparation for this year’s competition and their efforts paid off.”

Bruell adds: “These types of hands-on extracurricular activities greatly enrich the educational experience and helps produce students that are ready for the workplace. The fact that our students compete in this type of national competition speaks volumes regarding the high quality of our students and academic programs.”

In addition to Kelly, the members of the 2015 concrete canoe team are civil engineering freshmen Christopher Cantin, Cynthia Chestnut, Ian Sherriff and Nicholas Stillwell; sophomores Jeff Beck and Shiv Bhardwajre; seniors Danielle DeWolfe, Rebecca Gonsalves-Lamontagne, Zachary McDonough, Jesse Merchant, Taylor Moylan, Justin O’Connor, David Salyer and Ryan Walker and graduate students Nicholas Brisbois, Jeffrey Bruso, Jonathan Nadeau, Cassandra Piorkowski, Mark Procopio and Patrick Raistrick. Lecturer Edward Hajduk and laboratories director Gary Howe serve as advisers for the school’s ASCE student chapter and concrete canoe team, respectively. Allan Bassett, Joseph Benoit and Zachary Greene are the UMass Lowell alumni advisers.

Lighter Than Water

The annual ASCE concrete canoe competition challenges students to design and build canoes made of concrete that are strong yet lighter than water and then race them. UMass Lowell’s entry — called “Backfire” — was molded from a specially formulated lightweight concrete mix. The finished canoe measures 19 feet, 10 inches long, 27 inches wide at its maximum and nearly 14 inches deep, and weighs 146 pounds. Its 3/8-inch-thick concrete hull is light yet very strong — it is reinforced with fiberglass and carbon fiber meshes and galvanized steel cable.

To qualify for racing, the canoe has to pass a floatation “swamp” test in which the canoe is filled with water and pushed below the surface; the canoe must resurface on its own. A new rule for this year’s competition requires students add sandbags weighing a total of 50 pounds during the swamp test. The canoe must be able to rise above or just below the water surface to be eligible.

Backfire is adorned with beautiful artwork both on the inside and outside, and its underside features the canoe’s 1950s hot-rod car theme, complete with art deco-style gas station and diner.

“We developed the theme with input from all team members, but I would credit Jon Nadeau with the original idea,” notes Kelly. “Just like hot rods, our concrete canoe is a hand-made, meticulously finished, performance-tuned creation. We wanted to channel the fervor and dedication of hot-rod enthusiasts as we powered through setbacks and challenges.”

She adds: “While many team members helped apply the concrete stain, Jon, Pat Raistrick and one of our alumni advisers, Allan Bassett, had the greatest impact on the canoe’s aesthetics. To my knowledge, none of them have any formal background in art. However, the canoe is a great showcase for the versatility of engineers at UMass Lowell. Their attention to detail in laying out and finishing the artwork is obvious — it speaks of their dedication in all endeavors.”

For more information about the ASCE national competition, go to ( To see photos of the regional races, the Francis College of Engineering’s Facebook page.