Despite virtual challenges, UB ASCE thrives in this year's competitions

UB ASCE Canoe team testing the canoe on a beach.

Members of UB ASCE's concrete canoe team tests the canoe prior to the virtual regional competition. 

By Peter Murphy

Published May 10, 2021

UB’s American Society of Civil Engineers student club (UB ASCE) won first place in both the steel bridge and concrete canoe regional competitions, and earned recognition from the national ASCE organization in 2021. 

Concrete Canoe team sees best finish in nearly 20 years

“To me, it’s significant because it’s an indicator that the ASCE chapter is healthy and thriving. ”
Todd Snyder, UB ASCE advisor, Instructional support specialist
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

“I am extremely proud of how hard our club members have worked this year,” says Andrew Kist, a civil engineering senior and UB ASCE president. “Our veterans were great at adapting to the different nature this year, and I was impressed with our newer members and freshmen who decided to make the most of their virtual semester and get involved.”

Traditionally, UB ASCE competes in several in-person regional competitions for each of their different teams. The steel bridge project requires club members to compete against other clubs and the concrete canoe competition involves a display, presentation and a race. This year, all competitions were held virtually forcing UB ASCE’s teams to make major adjustments. 

The concrete canoe team won its first regional competition in nearly 20 years, despite the change in format. According to Riley Blasiak, concrete canoe team project manager and civil and environmental engineering junior, the team adjusted and took advantage of the remote preparation. 

“We started to work on the project over the summer, and spent a lot of time learning more about the programs we use to design the canoe. We started holding meetings in September once the competition’s rules came out, and we were hopeful we would be able to build a canoe in person,” Blasiak says, “In late November it became clear we would not have access to our lab, so we had to switch gears and finish the project in a remote setting. Being fully remote allowed us to look into what teams have done in previous years.”

Blasiak says this research, closely examining canoe projects from teams in years past, allowed UB ASCE to develop innovative ideas for the 2021 competition. In addition to the hull design and concrete mixing, ASCE added another component to this year’s competition; enhanced focus areas. 

Riley Blasiak and Andrew Kist.

Riley Blasiak (left) and Andrew Kist (right)

“We could decide what aspect of the canoe construction and design we wanted to focus on,” Blasiak says, “We decided to conduct a fluid dynamic analysis and build a team website. We started these projects in November and finished them in December. Everything was due February 19.”

UB ASCE teams were asked to submit all or most of their materials for these competitions early in the spring semester despite not learning the rules associated with each competition until September, later than a typical year, according to Kist. “There was a lot of uncertainty going into the year, especially when it came to our design teams,” Kist says. “Rules for all three of our teams came out later this year, which required quick-thinking on the part of our project managers to approach an entirely new competition format, while effectively maintaining the skills that have made the design teams so successful in the in-person competitions.”

UB ASCE’s steel bridge team participated in the regional Compete from Campus event. The club earned first place in all five categories (construction speed, lightness, aesthetics, economy and efficiency), and first place overall. Led by civil engineering students Zach Carlson and Lee McElhinny, the steel bridge team used its prior experience to succeed this year, according to Kist. 

“The project managers and other veterans of the design teams have been great at catching new members up to speed with the competition and how the rules have changed with the virtual environment,” Kist says, “the skills they were able to hone this year will be just as valuable when the competitions return to the in-person format, and hopefully, those skills are continuously passed down for years to come.”

You can watch the team assemble its steel bridge at the video below:

In addition to the team’s success at the individual team level, the club earned recognition for its hard work and activities. Specifically, the club received honorable mention from the national ASCE organization, commemorating the chapter’s work and activities, a major achievement according to UB ASCE advisor and instructional support specialist, Todd Snyder.

“To me, it’s significant because it’s an indicator that the ASCE chapter is healthy and thriving,” Snyder says, “the activities described in the annual report are all voluntary, extracurricular tasks which the students have taken upon themselves, as a chapter, and which are all seen through to completion. The chapter consistently prepares an annual report to the national ASCE organization ranked in the top 1/3 of all chapters.” 

The club also earned the NYS Council 2020 Student Chapter Award in Memory of Otto W. Maatsch, commemorating the hard work that the chapter accomplished as a whole. This recognition, according to Kist, honors the whole chapter. 

“Our annual report is what the council reviews when a chapter is considered for the award. The annual report also lists the goals the chapter sets, such as increasing community service hours or increasing the number of professional engineering guest speakers, and how our club has worked to meet or exceed those goals,” Kist says, “it is a reflection of all the hard work that the chapter does outside of our three design teams.”