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A Canoe Hope: The ASCE Concrete Canoe Team Takes the Great Lakes Student Conference by Storm

Written by: Allison Preston

Last weekend, the ASCE Concrete Canoe Team at Notre Dame traveled to Chicago for the ASCE Great Lakes Student Conference to compete in the regional competition. After a year of dedication to designing, casting, and finishing the canoe, the team had the opportunity to show off their hard work to other colleges in the Midwest and compete with them for a spot in the National Concrete Canoe Competition. The weekend involved displaying the canoe for judging on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, presenting the project to a panel of judges, and racing in the Lincoln Park lagoon adjacent to Lake Michigan.

The project team was Jake Miller (Senior, Project Manager), Becky Sutton (Senior, Mix Design Captain), Coleman Blakely (Junior, Structural Design Captain), Katie McKeon (Junior, Mix Design Apprentice), Finn Cavanaugh (Sophomore, Structural Design Apprentice), and Emily Reeve (Senior, Aesthetic Design Captain). Other team members included Adam Kuczynski, Mary O’Connor, Jack Diederich, Matt Gardner, Eric Duarte, and Brittany Margritz, and Jack Bodien. 

Starting in August, the team developed a project schedule and began testing concrete mixes. Around this time, the structural design team began performing structural analysis and designing the mold of the canoe. One of the team’s goals this year was to become more sustainable and cost-efficient with our project. In previous years, the canoe was cast in a Styrofoam mold, which was expensive and not reusable. This year, the team transitioned to a cost-efficient wooden mold with reusable cross sections. Additionally, the mix design team used local vendors to supply the various components of the concrete used for the canoe, reducing the project’s carbon footprint with decreased transportation distance required for material procurement.

In mid-December, the final mix design was determined and all of the wooden cross sections for the mold had been cut in preparation for mold construction and casting. After Winter break, the team constructed the mold for the canoe and cast it in mid-February. After curing for 28-days, the canoe was de-molded, sanded, and finished with the aesthetic design. The name of the canoe this year was A Canoe Hope; the aesthetics of the canoe were space-themed and each member of the team had the chance to design their own part of the exterior of the canoe. The exterior design was applied with slurry mixes, which are dyed mixes of concrete that the team used to “paint” thin layers on the outside of the canoe for the art design and lettering. Once the exterior finishes were completed, the canoe was ready to go!

The first full day of the conference the canoe was displayed outside of the engineering building at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Other teams were able to walk around and look at each other’s canoes while judges inspected the displays and scored them. Later in the day, the captains presented the project to the judges and answered questions based on mix design rationale, project management, and finishing techniques.

The next day of the conference was race day. Despite frigid temperatures at the Lincoln Park Lagoon, the team competed in five different races and placed third overall in the racing portion of the scoring, the best ever finish for a Notre Dame team in the racing portion of the competition.

After racing was finished, the team dressed up for the awards banquet that night. At the banquet, the team was awarded 3rd place overall in Concrete Canoe, tying the program’s best finish ever (2017). The team was ecstatic about finishing 3rd and is looking forward to continuing the success of the last couple years. We expect to remain a contender at the top of the conference long into the future and contend for Nationals on a yearly basis! 



Jake Miller is a senior civil engineering student from Gaithersburg, Maryland. He served as the Project Manager of the ASCE Concrete Canoe Team, his third year with the project. Additionally, Miller is involved with other ASCE activities, plays the trumpet in the Notre Dame Marching Band and Basketball Band, and helps with sports analytics for the Notre Dame Athletics Department.