Engineering students take first place in competition

WKU’s concrete canoe team poses for a team picture after competing at their regional competition on Friday, April 1. The team finished first for the second year in a row. Photo submitted by David Miller

Dustin Skipworth

A group of WKU civil engineering students won first place in the American Society of Civil Engineers Ohio Valley  Student Conference’s concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions held on March 31 through April 2.

Both groups’ efforts in the two competitions earned them a place in the ASCE’s national competition among student conference winners in June.

Matthew Dettman has been the faculty advisor of the concrete canoe team for more than 20 years. To him, the entire process is about preparing students for real life engineering experiences.

“I see this as an incredibly valuable teaching tool,” Dettman said. “It’s as close to a real life experience as you can get. It’s about building engineers, not concrete canoes.”

The final score in the canoe competition isn’t based solely on the vessel’s ability to float. There are several factors, including a paper and oral presentation detailing the design of the canoe, a cross section of the canoe to allow for judging of the concrete and a race of the canoe.

Senior co-captain Kayla Frye of Nancy hopes the team can make some minor adjustments to improve before nationals.

“We’re going to keep practicing the oral presentation,” Frye said. “We’ll work a little bit on our design paper just to fix a couple of things, and of course we’ll continue to practice paddling as well.”

Shane Palmquist, the faculty advisor for the steel bridge team, is taking his fourth trip to the national competition.

“There’s some very big engineering powerhouse schools at these competitions, and we can certainly compete with them,” Palmquist said.

Competitors in the steel bridge contest have to build their bridges on-site. Palmquist estimated that the team was able to finish the 20-foot-long bridge with six people in about 15 minutes. 

“The students came to me and said they wanted to build a true curved bridge,” Palmquist said, “which is very difficult, but they did it.”

The chance to compete in these competitions is a special rite of passage for Louisville senior David Miller, co-captain for the concrete canoe team.

“Each student gets a chance to be a part of it their senior year,” Miller said. 

Both teams have been working on their design concepts and application since August 2015. Disagreements are bound to happen when team members work in groups on an important project, Dettman noted, and these competitions are no different. 

“It’s a testament to the engineering department, but it’s also a testament to the entire university,” Dettman said. “Their entire education is coming into play.”