By Peter Murphy
Published June 3, 2022
In its first in-person regional competition since spring 2019, the University at Buffalo’s American Society of Civil Engineers (UB ASCE) took first place in the steel bridge competition and second place in the concrete canoe competition. This success earned each team a trip to its national competition.
“Coming out of COVID and being as successful as we were and pushing our club down a path for a brighter future based off of this year’s success, I think that’s a great legacy for us,” says Sean Crowell, civil engineering senior and president of UB ASCE.
The regional competition featured student clubs from colleges and universities in eight different states and five Canadian provinces. In-person competitions were a new experience for almost all the UB ASCE steel bridge and concrete canoe team members. The steel bridge team’s two project managers were the only team members to attend regional or national conferences in person.
“We went into lockdown our sophomore year and had seen a couple iterations of the bridge. Obviously, during that year, we didn’t go to competition,” Ryan Hickey, steel bridge design team co-project manager and civil engineering senior, says. “We only saw the competition during our first year. Lining up to do this our senior year, we spent the summer practicing and teaching ourselves some of the things that we would have to know. There was a knowledge gap that Riley [Blasiak] and I had to cover. We had to learn some things before this year even started as well.”
In a typical year, work on the steel bridge and concrete canoe projects starts at the beginning of the fall semester, and students meet, in-person, every day to work on their designs. The club has a history of active participation, and a solid record of retaining members from year to year, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought its own set of challenges. The design teams needed to adjust, according to Riley Blasiak, steel bridge design team co-project manager and senior civil and environmental engineering student.
“I think, going into this year, we expected we would be training a lot of students on how to use the equipment,” says Riley Blasiak, steel bridge design team project manager and senior civil and environmental engineering student. “We did get a few people who were interested in that, but the biggest hardship was getting them to realize that we work every day and getting them to understand that if they wanted to be a big part of the fabrication of the bridge, they also had to come in every day.”
The concrete canoe design team dealt with similar issues. Nobody, including Melissa Olsen, project manager and senior civil engineering student, had been to an in-person conference or competition.
“I wasn’t even really sure what I was getting myself into,” Olsen says. “We went to regionals and nationals last year, but it was all virtual. We had four returning members, so the team was small in the beginning, but there were a lot of new people who were very motivated to continue the project.”
When the regional conference is held at a physical location, concrete canoes are judged on several additional factors, including display, presentation and a race. Those factors were new considerations for the 2022 team, and they needed to find inspiration other than their own experiences, according to Olsen.
“We really relied on past reports, and pictures that were taken at past competitions,” Olsen says.
The concrete canoe design team found success at the regional competition, despite a majority of members participating at this level for the first time, this year. No one on the concrete canoe design team had paddled in any concrete canoe races, and the team won some in 2022.
UB ASCE’s steel bridge design team had some experience relative to the concrete canoe design team, however, like every ASCE student club, the team was competing, in-person, for the first time in three years. Teams are judged based on eight different categories in the steel bridge design competition. UB ASCE’s team earned first or second place in each of the eight categories.
The steel bridge team maintained this success at the national competition at the end of May at Virginia Tech University, and earned sixth place out of 35 teams. The concrete canoe design team is currently competing in ASCE's national competition at Louisiana Tech University.
UB ASCE and the University at Buffalo will host the 2023 ASCE Region 1 competition.
Aside from the success of its design teams, UB ASCE had other goals heading into the 2021-2022 academic year. According to club members, retention was a big consideration, and the club wanted to get more students involved. The club leveraged the design teams to generate interest and involvement. Members of each of the design teams would lead some of the general body meetings with an activity for the whole club to participate.
“We talked about our project and then made playdough canoes,” Olsen says. “We had everybody make a little canoe, put it in the water and see if it could float.”
Retaining members, and bringing club activity back to pre-pandemic levels, are some of UB ASCE’s major success according to club president, Sean Crowell.
“I think retainment of members and increasing our member count in the club, that’s our biggest success because that’s honestly the most important part,” Crowell says. “Outside of the design teams, I think that is one of our biggest successes, having a great amount of active members and new members I met this year.”
In addition to hosting the regional conference, heading into the 2022-2023 academic year, UB ASCE has goals around retention and student activity in mind. The club wants to focus on new and younger members and help them prepare for leadership positions in the future.
“It’s awesome to see that all these new members are so active, and that they want to learn all these things,” Crowell says. “They want to be involved, and other than going to nationals, I think that is our greatest success.”
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