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Concrete canoe race challenges region's engineering students (Released: 4/5/96)

by Richard Veilleux, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- There are concrete blocks, concrete steps and concrete walls. But students at the University of Connecticut and 16 other New England colleges this month will take it one step further -- concrete canoes.

On April 13, they intend to race them at Mansfield Hollow State Park.

The Concrete Canoe Race, which should challenge even the most erstwhile engineering student, will begin at 9 a.m. April 13 after each canoe submits to a "swamp test." There will be men's, women's and co-ed 200- meter sprints until noon. After a barbecue lunch, 600-meter endurance races and faculty races will be staged starting at 1:30 p.m. The winning school will take its canoe to the national competition in June.

The occasion for the race is the 1996 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) New England Region Student Conference and Concrete Canoe Race, a two-day event being hosted this year by UConn's ASCE student chapter. It all begins Friday, April 12, with the ASCE New England Council business meetings and management workshop, the presentation of all the teams' design papers, with a banquet in the evening. Charles Parthum, president of the national ASCE, is the night's keynote speaker.

Then it's off to the races.

UConn's canoe, dubbed The White Fang, has been in the design and construction phase for months, say Ramesh Malla, the student chapter's faculty advisor, and Greg Frantz, faculty advisor for the UConn canoe team, which has been involved in the project since September. The students visited canoe experts, read up on the subject, penciled some designs and, finally, began working with and testing 13 different types and mixtures of concrete.

Attempt number eight was deemed the winner, proving to be relatively lightweight -- the canoe weighs about 160 pounds -- while also performing well in a stress test, holding up to 5,000 pounds per square inch. The group's 13th mixture actually tested tougher, at 8,000 pounds per square inch, but it weighed nearly 20 pounds more.

UConn's boat is framed in a thin wire mesh, which was then covered with about a 5/16-inch layer of concrete. A small amount of foam is added to each end of the 16-foot-long canoe, to keep it from becoming a "concrete submarine," an event that happened all too often when the event was held at the University of Maine -- in rapids, says senior Mark Allyn.

"It's always changing, there's not always one school winning. It depends on how good the design is, how well you build it, how good the paddlers are, all kinds of different aspects," Allyn says.

Regardless of who wins, though, Malla, a civil engineering professor, says the event is great for the students who participate and for the middle and high school students who come to watch. The events are open to the public.

"It's a good way to arouse students' interests in engineering, especially civil engineering, which deals with the most basic things in everyday life, from buildings and roadways to dams, bridges and tunnels," Malla says. "And it gives our students a chance to use their design and analysis skills for a real-life project, teaches them teamwork, brings people together. It's also a lot of fun."

At least, that is, for those competitors who stay dry.

Students not involved in the actual design and construction -- 20 UConn civil engineering students were involved in the project -- earned experience in managing, coordinating and organizing activities.

Concrete Canoe Design and Construction Crew:

  • * Mark Allyn (coordinator) of Ellington
  • * Annette Lapkowski of Groton
  • Ali Kazemi of Manchester
  • * Chris Barrett of East Hartford
  • * Sonja Fisch of Sterling
  • * Karen Wydra of Terryville
  • * Frank Smeriglio of Stamford
  • Brandon Plunkett of South Windsor
  • * Professor Gregory Frantz of Storrs

* Indicates members of paddling team as well as designers/builders

The second faculty team paddler is Professor Hallas Ridgeway of Chaplin.

Also playing major roles were:

  • Giovani Castro of North Haven
  • David Christoforo of Northford
  • Alan Fenrow of Willimantic
  • Luke Hellerich of Thomaston
  • Mike Lombardi of Newington
  • Michael McGinnis of Suffield
  • Randall T. States, ASCE student chapter president, of New Haven
  • Joseph Timakov, ASCE student chapter vice president, of Ashford
  • Christine Tabak of Brookline, Mass.
  • Sylvia Zajac, ASCE student chapter treasurer, of Stafford Springs
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