“Rho, rho, rho the boat”

By Matt Hawkins
April 27, 2015

Every year, Bradley civil engineering and construction majors attempt to float a heavy concrete boat — a seemingly difficult challenge. This year, students floated and raced a 350-pound canoe at the annual American Society of Civil Engineers regional student conference at the University of Notre Dame. 

ASCE concrete boat team members, who have participated in the competition for several years, took pride in the accomplishment after boat malfunctions sank hopes in recent years. Because of that history, the 2015 boat was christened “Rho” — the engineering term for density. 

“We had a lot of motivation to expand on last year when the canoe broke,” said Matthew Sainz ‘15, of Columbia, Illinois. “We’ve learned so much the past couple years and were motivated to make up for those years.” 

Students estimated the hours they have spent on the 21-foot vessel equate to another three-hour course. This was in addition to schedules packed with upper-level engineering courses.

However, they enjoyed the chance to build resumes, tackle challenges outside the classroom and gain leadership experience. Plus, the engineers didn’t mind getting dirty. 

“This is very hands-on,” said Connor Wilson ’16 of Athens, Illinois. “We’re mixing concrete with our hands and we get to test the concrete. That’s a lot of fun.”

Modifications to past years’ boat designs and an overhaul of the concrete mix topped the list of problems the team solved. A lighter concrete mix composed of recycled expanded glass beads appeared to solve questions of strength, buoyancy and weight.

“It takes an incredible amount of energy to make concrete that floats, but the challenge is to make it strong enough,” said competition chair Paul Henke ‘16, of Germantown, Wisconsin. “It’s a large equation with a lot of variables and only a few solutions.”

Because the concrete canoe competition is one of ASCE’s two most-distinguished competitions, students knew a strong showing would leave a positive impression on potential future employers affiliated with ASCE. Additionally, teammates relished the opportunity to showcase their abilities against prominent schools like the University of Illinois, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin.

“We kept our eyes on the prize because it’s a big deal in ASCE,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of school and chapter pride because everyone would know if we had a bad canoe.”

Bradley’s ASCE chapter boasts 40 members. Teams compete in the concrete canoe competition, a steel bridge competition and several other events each year.