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Road to Ruston: Texas A&M University Concrete Canoe Team Competes in 2022 Society-Wide ASCE Competition

Road to Ruston: Texas A&M University Concrete Canoe Team Competes in 2022 Society-Wide ASCE Competition

February 2023

Authors: Hilaire Garza, EIT – 2022 Texas A&M Concrete Canoe Co-Captain
Ethan Harris, EIT – 2022 Texas A&M Concrete Canoe Co-Captain
Sidra Ahmed – 2023 Texas A&M Concrete Canoe Captain

There are many facets in which an ASCE student chapter can serve its student body. At Texas A&M University, a large part of student involvement can be found in the civil engineering project teams. Participation in concrete canoe competitions has been a long-standing tradition at Texas A&M, with the first team dating back to 1979. With numerous regional titles won since then, this team continues to pass the torch year to year.

The year following the virtual competitions from COVID-19 was an important transition year for many teams across the country. For everyone, it was a year of rebuilding what once was. During COVID lockdowns, Texas A&M placed second overall at the 2021 virtual student symposium for the Texas-Mexico region and competed as a wild card in the subsequent virtual National Concrete Canoe Competition. The first paddle practice of this school year, however, illustrated the effect that the pandemic had on member engagement. The disappointing turnout for the event showed the fresh Co-Captains, senior Civil Engineering majors Hilaire Garza and Ethan Harris, that recruitment would be one of the biggest challenges they would face. Despite this, Harris and Garza, along with their small yet experienced officer team, looked to accomplish what the school had not done since 2015: earn first place in the region.

Regionals Team Photo

To achieve this goal, Garza and Harris focused on three major objectives that would help streamline the season: active recruitment, in-depth documentation, and careful project scheduling. The growing team held fast to these goals, giving them stability and a trajectory for the future.

At the start of the 2021 – 2022 season, recruitment was the top priority. Every year, the team graduates its most experienced members making knowledge transfer an essential task for every new canoe team. Because of the loss of many members during the virtual year, new members were given extra opportunities to participate in the decision-making process. This allowed the members to be better prepared for future leadership responsibilities. The team also sought to recruit technical help from the research faculty at Texas A&M University. Certain practices utilized by the team were passed down with little knowledge of what the engineering behind the initial decisions were. Garza and Harris sought to justify some of these practices and design new practices with the help of mentors and experts in the field of concrete research. These mentors continue to help the team grow and develop as students and engineers.

Documentation was another important objective and led to the creation of new documents and design tools to track the progress of the team week to week. Important technical documents for the design of the canoe hull and concrete mix were carefully recorded so that design decisions could be tracked from the first meeting until the last. Additionally, budgeting was especially critical, and careful financial planning was needed to ensure that no cost overruns occurred.

In order to keep up with the many tasks that the team had to complete, a project schedule was created to organize the many submittal dates and project milestone deadlines. The team quickly realized, however, that these dates could not be written in stone, and many unforeseen circumstances required quick thinking on the part of the officer team to ensure that the final product could be delivered. The team also took pride in their paddle practice schedule, where every Saturday, as weather allowed, the team would travel to the nearest body of water to hone their racing skills and finalize the lineup for the paddling team. These members would compete in a variety of races held at each regional and national competition.

Through the hard work of every officer and member of the team, Texas A&M University arrived at the 2022 ASCE Region 6 Student Symposium with a carefully crafted prototype that would accomplish just what the team set out to do: win first place overall in the region. The team won first place in all three races, as well as in the technical areas of Enhanced Focus area and Technical Presentation. The team also won second in Final Product and Project Proposal.

Canoe Cross-Section

Following the triumph of the team in the regional competition, the team earned an invitation to compete in the National ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition in Ruston, Louisiana. Though the national competition held many of the same requirements as Regionals, extra preparation was still needed in order to ensure that the product delivered was of as high quality as possible. A major component was editing the Technical Paper to incorporate both feedback received from the regional judges as well as other mentors that had read the paper. Because of the competition’s start date in early June, and the spring semester ending in May, communication and work planning was essential. Tasks had to be scheduled to ensure that everything that had to be accomplished before the end of the semester was accomplished, and anything that hadn’t been completed could be done while the members were scattered across the various cities in Texas.

Regionals Team Photo

Throughout the weeks leading up to departure for Ruston, tasks such as truck rental, agenda planning, and trailer packing had to be coordinated over the course of several Zoom officer meetings as well as general member information.

After a triumphant 2022 season, the team focused on improving the groundwork laid the previous year and strived to become two-time regional champs. Led by the new captain, junior Civil Engineering major Sidra Ahmed, the 2022 – 2023 season meant new challenges in terms of the turnover of team members and staying competitive.

Dealing with member turnover was a significant challenge, especially right after reaching new competition records for the Texas A&M Concrete Canoe team. Every year the team loses its most seasoned members through graduation, and as a result, recruitment and knowledge transfer continue to be a high priority. This year in particular, saw almost all the previous leadership team (besides Ahmed) either graduate or leave to pursue other opportunities. Despite documentation of technical practices from the previous year, turnover still leads to a loss of valuable skills and knowledge. When key members leave, the team needs ways to find new talent quickly and strategically. The team continued their recruitment efforts by utilizing social media and civil engineering events at Texas A&M to promote the team and reach out to potential new members that would bring a fresh perspective to the project. Ahmed took time at the beginning of the academic year to ensure that new members were trained and well-integrated into the team. This aided in helping new members fit in well with the existing team culture, which makes for a more cohesive team. Furthermore, Ahmed expanded on documentation of techniques from the previous year at the beginning of the season to guarantee every step of the process was recorded. Building on last year’s efforts, Ahmed also ensured that mentorship with experts and professors were maintained and expanded to continue the technical growth of the team. These efforts assisted in mitigating the issues that result from the turnover of team members.

The most daunting challenge heading into the new season after placing at Nationals was making sure that the Texas A&M Concrete Canoe team stays competitive. With competition rules varying from year to year, there was a possibility that previous years’ methods and techniques were no longer applicable. Extensive research was conducted to ensure that the team was well-informed of the legality of all materials and techniques used in the new year. The team recognized the importance of being adaptable and the value of continuously investing in their knowledge and capabilities to maintain their edge. The team is prepared to face challenges to stay competitive by embracing rule change and being open to innovative ideas so the Texas A&M Concrete Canoe team can continue to make progress and win.

Despite numerous trials and tribulations arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas A&M Concrete Canoe team persevered and reached new personal records. The team celebrated the 2022 season victory and recognized the hard work and dedication of each team member, using this as a source of motivation for the future. Moving forward, the team is mindful of the challenges that lay ahead and are determined to capitalize on the momentum generated by winning to continue to grow as students and engineers. The Texas A&M Concrete Canoe team continues to be a force to be reckoned with and is looking forward to what the 2023 season will bring.

National Team Photo