Concrete canoe competition provides transformative experience for a mechanical engineering student.
By Mason Nichols
College is a time of excitement and anticipation for many students, and the knowledge acquired, lessons learned and friends gained are invaluable. But sometimes, it’s the unexpected experiences along the way that have the most impact.
For Miranda DeFuria, a mechanical engineering student at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, that unexpected experience has been participating on the school’s concrete canoe team. As a freshman, DeFuria was unsure whether she wanted to major in civil or mechanical engineering, so she attended an American Society of Civil Engineers meeting early in her first year to help make a decision.
“When I went to the meeting, the current president took me down to the basement, where the 2013 canoe was stored,” she said. “As soon as I saw it, I was like, ‘This is really cool! I have to get involved.’”
DeFuria was immediately intrigued by the discovery that concrete could float. Despite her excitement, she didn’t join the team right away, believing that her limited experience wouldn’t offer much to the group. After a few months, she worked up the confidence to change her mind and she became team captain one year later.
DeFuria learned that being on the concrete canoe team involved plenty of responsibility. Between canoe conception and race day, the team must develop a hull design, craft and refine a mix design, place concrete and reinforcement, and come up with an aesthetic approach for the vessel. Then, the team prepares for competition by practicing for the race with canoes from previous years. The teams also complete a design paper, oral presentation and display booth that ties in with their theme.
“It involves a lot of work, but it’s definitely a good application of what you learn in class,” DeFuria said. “It’s a lot of fun, too.”
Participating on the team has also allowed her to better understand the properties of concrete. As a result, she’s learned more about the basics of the building material, including how to perfect a mix design for optimum performance and appearance on race day. This year, the team will use a combination of gray portland cement, expansive cement, silica fume and fly ash for their entry.
For a chance to compete in the ASCE Concrete Canoe National Competition later this year, the YSU team will have to qualify by placing first in their regional event. The team can also head to nationals by placing second, but for that to happen, the path becomes a bit more complex. Last year, regional competitor Western Kentucky University placed among the top five teams at the national competition. If WKU earns first place in this year’s regional competition, then the team earning second place would also qualify for the national event.
Regardless of the results of her final competition, DeFuria said she has benefitted from her unexpected experience as both a contributing member and eventual captain of YSU’s concrete canoe team.
“I’ve definitely learned more leadership skills, because I didn’t really have a big leadership position before,” she said. “I’ve also learned to be more confident. Personally, this has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve been involved in during my college career.
“I hope any type of engineering student gets involved.”
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.