Civil Engineers Show Off Concrete Canoe, Steel Bridge

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. May 4, 2011 – Students in civil engineering put on a good show at the annual Rocky Mountain Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers in early April.
The 2011 Steel Bridge Team from New Mexico Tech with their entry into the ASCE competition. The team is Kelsey McCaslin, Curtis Galpin, Elyce Yates,  Rick Gilbreath, Ahmed Hussien, Amanda Thom, Romo Gavi and advisor Dr. Claudia Wilson.

Dr. Claudia Wilson and 22 student members of the campus ASCE chapter competed in the steel bridge and concrete canoe competitions.

The group of mostly upperclassmen started the event by participating in the Can-Struction event. Using 550 cans of food, the students built a faux Taj Mahal, then donated the food to a local food bank in Colorado Springs.

Senior Kelsey McCaslin participated in the non-technical paper competition, submitting a report related to the topic of “Ethics and the ASCE Report Card for American’s Infrastructure.”

Both the concrete canoe team and the bridge builders put on impressive shows, but did not finish in the top three.

Senior Kyle Sparks was the driving force behind the concrete canoe team.

“This was Kyle’s canoe,” Dr. Wilson said. “If it wasn’t for Kyle, it wouldn’t have happened. He’s been working on it for two years – the form, organizing and leading the team. Once other students saw the form and the plan, they started helping out more.” 


The 2011 New Mexico Tech concrete canoe team poses with their boat. The team is Levi Del Curto, Amiri Alexander, Elyce Yates, advisor Dr. Claudia Wilson, Kyle Sparks, Fanny Seminaro, Michael Maestas, Enrique Koerdell and Chelsea Woods.


The final race of the competition was the co-ed sprint. Above, the tired Tech team coasts to shore after finishing fourth. Pictured are Fanny Seminaro, Levi Del Curto, Chelsea Woods and Michael Maestas.

The men's slalom team had a slight mishap, but finished the race. They are Amiri Alexander, Kyle Sparks and Enrique Koerdell.

Sparks said he was determined to get the canoe finished and ready for the competition because Tech did not enter the regional competition in 2010.

“Being a graduating senior, I wanted to see it finished,” he said. “I was disappointed last year that we didn’t have the money. I was driven.”

This year, the rules focused on sustainability; each canoe was required to use recycled or recyclable aggregate. Sparks developed a 100 percent renewable mix that included cement, fly ash, silica fume, glass microspheres, shredded rubber, water-reducing agents and air-entrainers. He also designed and built the form for pouring, with Andrew Brenner pitching in with modeling.

He built the pouring molds and mixed the aggregate. On pouring day in mid-February, the team started to rally around. For six weeks, the boat sat and cured, while students sanded it and finished the vessel with stains and sealers.

“The competition was the first time it hit the water,” Sparks said. “We won the first race and that was a big surprise, considering that we didn’t have any practice in that boat.”

Some of the Tech competitors had some practice in the 2009 canoe, but not very much.

The canoe was 20 feet long, weighed about 225 pounds and was 5/8-inch thick.

Brenner and Sparks wrote the technical paper that was submitted to the judges. Chelsea Woods created the visual display. Edika Zarbroudi created the slides for the oral presentation. Sparks and Amiri Alexander presented the project to the judges.

The culmination of the concrete canoe competition was, of course, the races in a city park in Colorado Springs.

“They did amazingly well,” Wilson said. “It was fantastic. It was an enormous amount of work.”

The competition includes five races. Woods and Fanny Seminaro won the women’s sprint race. Sparks and Enrique Koerdell finished second in the men’s sprint. In the women’s slalom, Seminaro, Woods and Elyce Yates finished fifth. In the final race, Seminaro, Woods, Levi del Curto and Michael Maestas finished fourth in the co-ed sprint.

The team’s undoing came in the fourth race – the men’s slalom. Sparks, Koerdell and Alexander were near the lead when the canoe started taking on water. The canoe eventually sank, requiring the rescue boat to salvage the submerged vessel. The three boaters resumed the race and made a furious finish, but narrowly finished in last.

Overall, the Tech boaters finished fourth in the races.

“We did well – a lot better in the races that I thought we’d do,” Sparks said. “Paddling a concrete canoe is not a simple task. It was just really nice to get out there and race and to fulfill our goals after all that hard work we did on that canoe.”

While the canoe team works as a volunteer project, the Steel Bridge Team is part of Wilson’s class in Senior Design.

“They did an amazing job. They had a very unique design – very creative,” Wilson said. “The judges were very complimentary and very happy with the design.”

The seniors on the team are Sehin Faris, Romo Gavi, Rick Gilbreath, Ahmed Hussien, Kelsey McCaslin, Amanda Thom and Elyce Yates. The construction team was Gavi, Hussien, Thom, Yates and underclassman Curtis Galpin.

The competition this year required cantilever features and that the deck be the topmost feature of the bridge. The team worked all year in design, fabrication and testing.

“They had a difficult design that required a lot of precision,” Wilson said. “These are engineering students, not construction students. Elyce Yates was the only one on the team with welding experience. They scored well for weight, display and innovative design, but they had problems with loading because of their lack of experience in fabrication.”

Hussien, who plans on graduating in December 2011, said the biggest challenge was finding the right balance of strength, stiffness and light weight.

“We took a gamble and went for lightness,” he said. “Our bridge was more than 100 pounds lighter than most. And we had one of the most innovative designs. No one had a bridge like ours.”

Amanda Thom said the Tech bridge was the only structure to include a triangular engineered beam, which she called “a 3-D space truss structure.”

The competition requires the team to complete construction within 45 minutes. During practice sessions, the Techies struggled to get it built in time. Under the pressure of competition, the students completed construction in 32 minutes.

“That was the team’s most united moment,” Thom said. “When it came down to the competition, everyone focused and came together.”

The Tech steel bridge accommodated more than 1,000 pounds before buckling.

Thom said one major lesson learned is that fund-raising is important. The club raised more than $2,000 on its own and received matching funds from the Student Association. However, the team’s efforts were hampered by not having enough money to purchase materials and equipment.

“No matter how much you put into design, if you don’t have money, you can’t build it,” she said.

Nevertheless, the entire process was positive.

“We definitely applied all the concepts we learned in Steel Design and Finite Element Analysis,” she said. “It really was a compilation of everything we have learned in the Civil Engineering Department.”

Thom and Yates both said that the team effort would have been better had they started earlier in the year.

“Time was our biggest enemy,” Yates said. “We had to push it fast.”

Thom said the team spent about 10 weeks on the project.

“It was really awesome that we delivered a really good bridge,” Thom said.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” Hussien said. “It looked good on paper and in our heads, but it wasn’t as perfect in real life.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech