Concrete canoe competition keeps Metropolitan students afloat

Group with the canoe

In FDU's student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), "we try to expose students to the real-life challenges of engineering," says junior and president Moises Melgar-Sotelo. Above, team members pose with their submission, the Lady Knight, at the ASCE student canoe competition. (Photos courtesy of Melgar-Sotelo)

By Kenna Caprio

May 4, 2017 — Fairleigh Dickinson University students recently launched the Lady Knight, a 300-pound concrete canoe, into Cooks Pond in Denville, N.J., as part of the annual American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student canoe competition.

Competing in the Metropolitan Conference against a number of universities, the FDU team participated in tests of flotation and endurance, several race heats, and presented a business plan.

“Students put all their skills, drafting, estimating and structural analysis, from core engineering classes to use,” says Moises Melgar-Sotelo, a junior civil engineering major from Garfield, N.J., and president of the FDU ASCE chapter. “The whole purpose is to expose them to a real-life project and work, on a small scale.”

For two months, including one month for design and material collection, students worked on the canoe in Becton Hall. Initially, when they poured the concrete, it wasn’t staying in place. They kept redoing it, with little success, until they found a coating solution to get the concrete to stick to the mould. On construction day, about 40 students casted and sanded the canoe. “These were not only engineering students, but also business students and biology majors,” says Melgar-Sotelo.

Canoe at lake

The team also had to figure out how to move the canoe. Originally, they planned to build the canoe in the Muscarelle Center, but when all of the laboratories were moved into Becton Hall, they had to come up with a new plan because of concerns that they might not be able to maneuver the canoe out of a classroom or lab. Team members coordinated with the University to find a secure spot, since contractors are still at work on Becton Hall refurbishing projects.

FDU canoe

Melgar-Sotelo is proud that the campus banded together on the project. “It’s résumé-building, right there. Once you finish the project, there’s such a sense of accomplishment.”

Students also practiced racing for three 200-meter heats, with men, women and co-ed combinations. Finally, it was competition time on Sunday, April 30.

“The business presentation is to show how the canoe was built and why it’s the best. It’s a bidding proposal, just like on a real job. Then we go to the pond for the floating test, and fill the canoe with water to check its safety. If you fail, you lose points. Then the endurance test determines the strength of the canoe. A lot of universities fail in that moment,” says Moises Melgar-Sotelo. If the canoe passes, it’s off to the races.

“The canoe looked really nice and had a smooth finish on the outside,” he says. The team was concerned that the quarter-inch thickness might not hold, but it did. Teams from Rowan University and New Jersey Institute of Technology were not so lucky, though — their canoes broke. “We need to add flotation devices at the last moment. A lot of universities had flotation problems this year.” The FDU women placed first in their race.

“About 26 people went. There were more than 200 people from all different universities there this year. The fun part is the competition itself, and seeing people racing,” says Melgar-Sotelo, whose voice was still hoarse on Monday from cheering his teammates on. The team is already considering what they can do better next year.

Students worked diligently on the concrete canoe project for months, from practicing for the race heats to pouring the concrete and sanding the canoe, to ready themselves and the canoe for competition day. 
Below is a photo chronology of the project:

Canoe paddling practice

Pouring concreteCasting the canoeMoving the canoe

Lady Knight canoeCanoe with lettering

Canoe and student team

Students paddle the canoe

Paddling the canoe