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UIC placed in the top half of the highly competitive Great Lakes Student Conference on April 14-16 at IIT in Chicago.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) members competed against 18 universities during the annual conference, which is made up of schools from southern Wisconsin, northern and central Illinois, and Indiana, and it is one of the largest regions based on number of schools.

The schools competed in a set of Civil Engineering-based competitions. At a regional level, eight competitions are typically hosted.

Two of the most anticipated competitions were the Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge competitions.

Building a canoe with concrete doesn’t make much sense – unless you are a civil engineer.

“The canoe competition is one of many competitions in which students think ‘outside the box’ in order to make the impossible, possible,” said Hector Barajas, a CME student and the Concrete Canoe team captain.

The competition tested the students’ understanding of construction materials, concrete mixtures, management, creative thinking, and a little bit of athleticism. The goal is to draw attention to the capabilities of concrete as a construction material among civil engineering students and the general public. It also provides students with the opportunity to gain practical experience by working with concrete mixtures and construction management.

Despite having several experienced members from last year’s competition working with many new members, UIC faced many challenges before April.

“We designed and built a completely new mold,” said Barajas. “The reinforcement and the mix are still the same, but the design is more streamlined to make it narrower and shallower.”

Building a concrete canoe is not a simple weekend project. The team dedicated hundreds of hours outside the classroom working hard in the workshop and preparing for the competition.

“I have spent about 12 to 24 hours every week since the beginning of the spring semester,” said Barajas. “Apart from building the canoe, the team also dedicated two to six hours on weekends in September and October practicing paddling in a canoe.”

While the team finished in the middle of the pack, they should be commended for taking on a challenge that most people wouldn’t attempt.

“I am proud of myself and my team,” said Barajas. “It’s a very hard project to take on especially having to balance it with other schoolwork and projects.”

In 2015, the Steel Bridge team captured third placed in the regional competition and participated in the national competition for the Steel Bridge competition.

Despite a strong performance this year, the team didn’t qualify for nationals.

The objective of the competition is to increase awareness of real-world engineering issues such as spatial constraints, fabrication processes, project management, effective teamwork and much more. Each team is given a problem statement then must design, fabricate, and erect a steel bridge within the given specifications. The scores were based on display, construction speed, lightness, stiffness, construction economy, structural efficiency, and overall performance.

“This year the bridge had to be a foot longer than last year so that required the most attention while designing the bridge,” said Rodrigo Moreno, president of ASCE-UIC.

Like most years, the team is made up of returning members and new members, and all of them contributed hundreds of hours designing, fabricating, and practicing for the competition.

“This year is a growing year for the team as many members have recently graduated or are graduating in May,” said Moreno. “There are several new members this year that are excited about the opportunity to apply the fundamentals from the classroom.”

A highlight for UIC was placing third in the “Mystery Design” competition on Saturday. As the title suggests, the task was not revealed until the students arrived for the captains meeting on Thursday, and presented like a professional project in the field. A problem was presented and the team had a limited amount of time and resources to plan, execute, and test a solution.

Apart from placing in the top half, the UIC team members gained experience they will take back to the classroom or to a new job when they graduate. Throughout the weekend, the students bonded as a team, took chances, overcame obstacles, and competed hard. They may be students, but when they had to face hard work and new challeneges they stepped up as professionals. And that makes them all winners.

Learn more about UIC’s ASCE chapter at ASCE-UIC.

By David Staudacher, UIC

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