Students Win Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge Contests

For the second year in a row, civil engineering students won the concrete canoe and the steel bridge contests.

It was a clean sweep: Over the weekend NJIT students won the steel bridge contest as well as the concrete canoe contest.

This marks the second year in a row that NJIT has won both contests.  

The first win came on Saturday, when NJIT won the Regional Steel-Bridge competition held at NYU-Polytechnic’s campus in Brooklyn.  NJIT took first place overall and also won first in the categories of economy, display, stiffness, efficiency and oral presentation.

Teams must assemble their bridges under deadline pressure before the vigilant eyes of judges: NJIT assembled its bridge in 11 minutes and 54 seconds. Eleven schools competed in the contest, with NJIT topping teams from Columbia, Rutgers, NYU-Polytechnic, Manhattan College, City College of New York, the College of New Jersey and Rowan. The rules were rigorous and five teams were disqualified: their bridges did not meet specifications. NJIT never faltered.

It’s the 8th year in a row that NJIT has won the metropolitan regional competition, organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). By taking regionals, the NJIT team of 25 civil engineering students, nabbed an invitation to the National Steel Bridge Competition. It will be held in May at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Concrete Canoe Team

The second win came on Sunday when, under a hot sun, NJIT’s Concrete Canoe Team won first place in the ASCE regional contest held at Cook’s Pond, in Denville. They, too, won a spot in nationals. In June they’ll travel to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to compete against regional winners.

Beginning in August, the team designed, fabricated and built a 250-pound canoe. They used a mix of special mix concrete dictated by ASCE specifications. The trick was to build a boat that not only met specs and could stay afloat but was also fast. Each team had to race its canoe in five heats: NJIT took second place overall. They also took first in the men’s sprint, second in the men’s slalom, where they had to negotiate five buoys, and second in the women’s slalom. The women also took third in the sprint. The races accounted for 25 percent of the judging. The other three categories were a research paper outlining their design of the canoe, a presentation about their design, and a display of the canoe’s mold. The races amounted to 25 points, with the three other categories accounting for 75 points. 

The NJIT canoe team won first for its presentation and second for its display. Altogether that made for an overall first place win. Ten teams competed in the canoe contest, with NJIT topping teams from such as Stevens, Rutgers, The College of New Jersey, Farleigh Dickinson and NYU-Polytechnic.

“Our team worked to assure that our boat was fast and maneuverable in the water and that it was well engineered,” said Eric Miranda, a co-captain of the team. “This is the day we’ve working toward, and waiting for; and to come out with a win is pure joy.”

Whereas last year’s canoe was wide and boxy, emphasizing stability, this year’s team designed a semi-round bottom that gave the canoe speed without sacrificing stability. The canoe was also longer and sleeker. But what gave NJIT the edge was its dedication: The team couldn’t practice rowing with the concrete canoe; there’s always a risk it would crack. So they designed a prototype canoe in fiber-glass, a light boat that was easy to transport and wouldn’t crack. And for two months, on weekend days, the students strapped that canoe to a car and drove to Cook’s pond, where they practiced rowing. They learned to negotiate turns, how to steady the canoe in the wind, and how to sprint. They became stronger rowers and they grew into something more than a team.

“We became like one big family,” said Gabrielle Da Silva, a freshman who rowed the canoe for the women’s team and in the co-ed race. “When I was out there rowing, my arms burned and my throat was dry. But I thought of all the hard work our team put into this and I powered up.”

The team of 30 students is made up of lower and upper classmen, with upperclassmen mentoring the younger students, added Da Silva. That’s what gives the team continuity and success.   

“Some of the seniors who mentored me are graduating,” she said. “We younger students are already thinking about next year’s canoe, which will be stronger and lighter and faster than this year’s.

Why the Teams Win

John Schuring is a professor of civil engineering at NJIT who for decades has winningly advised both the steel bridge and the concrete canoe teams. The teams have been successful because the students join out of their own volition, says Schuring. They don’t receive academic credits for joining the teams. They join because they want to -- and that makes all the difference.

“Civil engineering majors love hands-on projects,” he says. “They put in endless hours of work because they love to design and build.   That’s one of the keys to their success.”

Another key is that teams are advised by alumni from previous teams.  Since summer, some team alums have come to NJIT during weekends and weeknights to mentor current team members. 

Take for instance Rocco Cerami, a 2012 grad who captained last year’s canoe team. Cerami, a field engineer for Schiavone, said last year he surmounted several design problems and he wanted to share his insights with the 2013 team. So he came back to NJIT throughout the semester to advise the team. Cerami also came to Cook’s Pond Sunday to cheer on the team. He had last year’s championship trophy in his car. He not only got a trophy from his involvement on the team: He also got his job.

“During my interview with Schiavone I talked about my involvement with the canoe team and that’s the major reason they hired me,” he said.

Giancarlo Fricano came to NYU Polytechnic’s campus in Brooklyn on Saturday to cheer on the steel bridge team. He captained the team for two years – 2009 and 2010 – and he advised the team this past semester. He works as a superintendent engineer for Schiavone, a job he got in large part because of the leadership and engineering skills he crafted while on the steel bridge team.

“When you interview for a job and can show the work you did on major hands-on project the employer can easily evaluate the end product of your work,” Fricano said. “The members on this team will have an easier time finding jobs because of the hard work they did on this great bridge.”

Each year the steel bridge seems to improve, he added, with this year’s bridge being “one of the best I’ve ever seen.” The team designed a light bridge that was stiff yet light and easy to assemble. The bridge was also aesthetically pleasing in its cantilevered and trussed design, he said.  

Tom Woloszyn, a co-captain for this year’s bridge team, said the steel bridge team has been the highlight of his academic years at NJIT.

“All of us on the team feel that this been the most rewarding experience of our lives,” said Woloszyn, a senior majoring in civil engineering. “We learned to work as a team and we’ve become friends. We got to know our professors better and we worked closely with our company sponsors. Some of our past team members have gotten jobs working for our sponsors and other companies and I hope to do the same after I graduate.”

By Robert Florida