Concrete canoe team races to prepare for MidPac Conference

The University of Nevada, Reno looks for success in the concrete canoe, steel bridge and water treatment events

The concrete canoe races will be held at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma.


4/20/2018 | By: Nicholas Ruggieri |

Engineering students from the University of Nevada, Reno will join 16 other universities from California, China and Canada to be a part of this year's MidPac Conference from April 19-21 at Sacramento State.

The University will be a part of three of the Conference's events over the weekend, including the concrete canoe, steel bridge and water treatment competitions. The variety of events means the overall team being sent over consists of a diverse range of engineering departments being represented. David Sanders, a professor in the civil and environmental engineering department and the team's faculty advisor, and Kelly Doyle, a lecturer in the College of Engineering, have worked to put together an exciting MidPac team.

"Most of the students are civil engineering students, but we have students from several of the College of Engineering departments," Sanders said. "We have presidents of the different events from mechanical engineering and the concrete canoe project managers are from material science and engineering. The competition really provides a great opportunity for students to learn about design processes, team work, construction and project management, which are aspects that are helpful in any engineering field."

With many departments from the College of Engineering coming together to compete over the weekend, the concrete canoe team has a chance to continue the University of Nevada, Reno's successful run upon joining the competition in 2005. Since 2007, the team has placed first at regionals six out of nine years and has gone on to win the national competition in 2008 and 2014.

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In 2017, despite last-minute overhauls after a rupture to the canoe's body a few weeks before the competition, the University placed first in all race events: women's endurance, men's endurance, women's sprint, men's sprint and coed sprint. The team went on to finish second in the technical portion and third in the presentation portion, earning them third place overall. This year, newcomers and previous team members are hoping to build on and learn from last year's events.

"The mixture of new team members and previous competitors is critical to the success of this year's team," Sanders said. "The experienced members can look back at last year, or any previous year, and understand how the competitions work and what is being judged and make decisions based on that, while the new members bring in a spark, which impacts anything from design and construction to morale and rowing ability."

The concrete canoe team's preparation began back in the fall semester. The MidPac Conference, American Society of Civil Engineering and the Associated General Contractors provide the rules and regulations each team must follow when building their canoe. The instructions include canoe length and width, seat size, paddle style and size, flotation device constraints and repair protocol.

The rowers' hands-on training also began in the fall, preparing for the racing portions of the competition under accelerated circumstances.

"Many times the rowers have very limited, if not zero paddling experience when they begin," Sanders said. "They start training in the fall on Saturdays and Sundays, practicing at the marina. They practice every weekend, with a short break over the winter break, but they're out on the water in extreme weather, from strong winds to snow. You can really see their training coming through when they are at the competition and the weather sets in."

Engineering design challenges teach real-world skills
Along with the University's canoeing team, engineering students will also compete in the Conference's steel bridge and water treatment events, meant to test students' design and problem solving skills.

"Our steel bridge and water treatment teams are really striving to do a great job representing our University," Sanders said. "These students learn so much about themselves and others as they work together on the team, as well as analysis, design, reading specifications, writing, public speaking and problem solving."

This year's steel bridge competition bases itself on the 2015 construction of Portland, Oregon's Bridge of the People, which was the first bridge in the United States to allow access to transit vehicles, emergency vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians but not cars. Students are to design a 1:10 scale model of a bridge meant for similar practices, which will be built over the course of the weekend. Judges will then score construction speed, lightness, stiffness, construction economy, structural efficiency and overall performance.

Similarly, the water treatment competition tasks students with creating a water treatment filter made of supplies found in a hardware store. Students will be operating under the scenario of having taken a vacation to the Pacific Islands when a tropical storm hits and wipes out all power and damages a water tank, leaving it filled with debris. Judges will score water quality, design report, construction and oral presentation.

Overall, Sanders feels each team will proudly represent the University of Nevada, Reno with all of the hard work and preparation they've put into their respective competition.

"Being the teams faculty advisor, I'm here to help facilitate the teams and be there to help in any way I can," Sanders said, "but the students truly do it all on their own. They are three amazing teams."

You can learn more about the MidPac Conference's events and schedule, including the geowall and transportation challenge and the weekend's minigames, by visiting their website.


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

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