By Peter Murphy
Published July 13, 2023
In April, the UB American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) steel bridge and concrete canoe teams won each of their regional competitions for the first time in club history. Their momentum continued earlier this summer when they both finished inside of the top 10 at their national competitions.
“Considering all of the work our team had put into the project, our expectations for nationals were very high. Anyone who saw all the time, effort and commitment our team put in wouldn’t be surprised with where we finished,” says Andrew Ralicki, a recent civil engineering graduate and one of the project managers for the steel bridge team during the 2022-23 season.
The steel bridge team finished third in the nation in the American Institute of Steel Construction’s national Student Steel Bridge Competition at the University of California, San Diego. This is the best finish in history for the UB ASCE steel bridge team.
The steel bridge competitions – at the regional and national levels – are similar. Each participating team is judged on seven different criteria, including overall score. UB ASCE’s team earned second place for both construction speed, the total time it took for the team to construct the bridge during the competition, and construction economy, a score calculated using construction speed and number of builders. One of the most notable differences between the regional symposium and national competition is that there were nearly five times as many bridge design teams at the national level compared to the regional competition.
The national competition began about six weeks after the regional symposium wrapped up. To prepare for the elevated skill of other teams at the national level, UB’s team had to dedicate many hours per day to enhancing its bridge. Several of these preparations took place during the final weeks of the academic semester, adding extra responsibilities to an already intense time of year.
“A typical day between regionals and nationals consisted mostly of build practice for a few hours each day, including weekends,” says Dylan Leddy, a recent graduate who is enrolled in the civil engineering master’s program for fall 2023 and one of the team’s project managers this season. “During the day, we brainstormed other minor structural changes for the bridge and tested these changes. We would have members in the shop at around 9 a.m. until build practice, which usually started around 4 or 5 p.m. Build practice would last between two-three hours.”
Historically, UB’s steel bridge design team has been successful. The team finished at or near the top of the regional competition for the last several years, and often qualified to participate in the national competition. Last year, the steel bridge team broke into the top 10, and this year they finished inside the top three, reaching a long-time goal, according to Ralicki.
“It’s been a goal to finish in the top three for many years and we have been close a number of times in the past decade. Since our adviser John Gast joined us in 2011, our club has become a consistently nationally competitive team. This finish meant a lot to our team and especially to John,” Ralicki says.
UB ASCE’s concrete canoe team has built a similar momentum over the last several years. The team finished ninth in the national ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. According to Meghan Pauley, concrete canoe project team manager and recent civil engineering graduate, the team has made steady improvements.
“Over the past three years we’ve been fortunate enough to attend nationals, and we’ve been able to outperform ourselves every year,” Pauley says. “For the 2021 national competition, we placed 19th; in 2022, we placed 14th. This year we placed ninth, meaning that we’ve been able to move up by 10 places over the past three years, which is a testament to how much this team has learned and grown.”
The team went into this academic year wanting to be more competitive, Pauley says. “Our goal for the entire year was to make it to the national competition and place within the top 10, which we were able to accomplish.”
The national concrete canoe competition took place one week after the steel bridge competition, and the concrete canoe team had a relatively short period to make any enhancements to its design. The team used its 2022 design heading into 2023 and made several improvements over the course of the year. After winning the regional competition, the team made some adjustments to the canoe’s materials, Pauley says.
“We reached out to a local company to have our foam mold manufactured. This increased the accuracy of the mold design and gave our team more hours to focus on other aspects of the project,” Pauley says. “We also monitored our wall thickness during the troweling process for our full-scale concrete pour. We used rubber strips that spanned the entire mold as depth gauges, which were more effective than our method last year.”
These changes in the canoe’s design impact different aspects of the teams’ evaluation at nationals. During the fall semester, the national ASCE sends an request for proposal (RFP) for the manufacturing and building of a concrete canoe to each of the ASCE student chapter across the country. This method, according to ASCE, is intended to provide closer resemblance of real-world practices. The response to this RFP, the project proposal, makes up 30% of the teams’ final score. The presentation accounts for 25% and the final prototype makes up another 25% of the score. The various canoe races at the national competition are worth 20% as well.
“We focused on improving our paddling skills to keep us nationally competitive, so we would go out onto Lake LaSalle a few days every week to get down our sprint and slalom times,” says Pauley.
The team finished fifth in both the coed sprint and men’s slalom races.
Pauley hopes the team can continue to carry its momentum from the last three years into the 2023-24 season.
“The team plans on building upon our success at nationals and to continue to outperform the previous year,” Pauley says. “They’re planning on taking what worked well this year and continuing it while also making tweaks to the construction process.”
Pauley, Ralicki and Leddy are all starting their careers this summer as civil engineers at different firms in Buffalo, and Leddy is also continuing his studies in the civil engineering master’s program at UB. Although they are moving on, like many other members of the ASCE club, their impact was significant and will continue to be felt.
“Finishing third in the nation means a lot to me and it shows that hard work does pay off,” Leddy says. “We drove the bridge across the country to the competition in San Diego. I feel like this hardworking team deserves its spot in the top after putting in thousands of person hours on these projects.”
You can check out the steel bridge team's built at nationals below:
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