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K-State at Salina


Whatever floats their boat: Students compete in concrete canoe competition

By Michelle Hall



people making a concrete canoe
Photos courtesy of Andy Rietcheck.


K-State Salina's concrete canoe is pulled off of its foam form after curing for four weeks. The next task is to sand and paint it.

A canoe made out of concrete just doesn't sound like a contraption that a budding engineer would construct. But for one collegiate competition, that's just what students around the nation do – including a team from Kansas State University at Salina.

Concrete canoes are constructed over a foam mold out of a mixture of cement powder and ceramic beads and glass (rather than the heavier rock and sand used in most concrete). The canoes are reinforced with layers of fiberglass mesh as they are constructed. After four weeks of curing on the foam mold, the concrete canoe is removed, and sanded and painted.

Until last year, only teams from four-year programs competed in the regional event; K-State at Salina was the first two-year program to field a team. They placed eighth out of eight teams in their first year. But, noted professor Andy Rietcheck, the team's sponsor, they placed fifth in the construction and durability portion of the event.

"We were proud because the construction aspect of the canoe is what our team focused on," he said. They also won the grit award, recognizing their determination and spirit at the competition.

The canoe building is done as part of the civil and construction engineering technology club on campus and is sponsored as a Student Government Association activity. The team raises 25 percent of the money they need to compete, said Rietcheck, an assistant professor of civil engineering technology.

He said students competing in the concrete canoe contest learn leadership, teamwork, planning and fundraising skills, as well as how to manage and even purchase materials.

"The project helps teach different engineering skills, such as design and testing," said junior Russell Knox, a construction engineering technology major. He added they also learned much time management, as they only have a small number of students in their program to help with the project.

Matt Markle, a sophomore who is in charge of the canoe building this year, said he was impressed with what they accomplished with the few people they had, although he said he is spending more time on recruitment this year.

"It gives a huge sense of accomplishment when three or four guys can come together and accomplish what other teams did with many more people," he said.

For the competition, the team gives a technical presentation and writes a paper. The presentation includes costs, project plans, a timeline and costs for mass production. The competition also consists of a display, and various tests of the canoe in the water. The swamp test has the competitors fill their canoe with water to see if it sinks (it's not supposed to). Races are also a part of the competition, and include endurance and sprints. Rietcheck said some teams have dedicated rowers who focus on that aspect of the competition.

For the K-State at Salina team, however, rowing was not a major focus. Some of the rowers had never even rowed a canoe before the competition. In addition to the competitive aspect, the races allow the judges to see how well the canoes hold up for the durability portion of the competition.

Students have already started building this year's canoe. It is completely redesigned with a smaller hull to make it easier to turn and is much lighter than the one last year. Markle said their first canoe was "too wide, too thick and a little too tall -- it took at least eight people to carry it." The size also made it hard to row and turn, Knox said.

For this year's competition, Markle said he's not looking to take first place; he realizes that's just not realistic in their second year.

"What I am looking for is steady improvement from last year and preparing the freshmen to lead the team next year," he said.

K-State at Salina, along with a team from the main campus in Manhattan, competes in the Midwest region of the concrete canoe competition.

This coming spring, the event will be at Tuttle Creek Lake in Manhattan. The American Society of Civil Engineers sponsors the concrete canoe competition.

K-State Salina's concrete canoe takes to the water with four team members awaiting the coed races during competition in spring 2002.

Winter 2002