Hawkeyes of American Society of Civil Engineers chapter moves onto nationals for concrete canoe competition

At the yearly Midwest Concrete Canoe Conference, the University of Iowa chapter placed first and earned a spot at the national conference.



Samantha Murray, News Reporter

For the first time in more than 20 years, the American Society of Civil Engineers chapter at the University of Iowa came in first at the Midwest Concrete Canoe Conference and will head to the national competition in June.

Hannah DeBruin, one of the team’s co-captains, said she has been a part of the chapter since her freshman year. She joined to get a more hands-on engineering experience, she said, but she had to adapt her skills as the concrete canoe competition changed with the spread of COVID-19.

Preparing for the competition in past years usually took the whole school year, she said. The teams would create and test designs and mixes, culminating in each team pouring their own concrete canoe and racing it.

Because of COVID-19, the competition looked very different this year, DeBruin said, ending by turning in a report and giving a presentation at a Zoom conference. She said the team mostly met and completed their tasks online, using limited in-person meetings to create concrete samples.

Despite the big shift in style of competition, the Hawkeyes won.

“It was very surprising to have the hard work kind of pay off,” DeBruin said. “I was very proud of my team for really pulling together because sometimes this report writing isn’t the most interesting thing, especially when, in a normal year, you could be building a full canoe and racing it.”

Even if COVID-19 wasn’t a factor, DeBruin said one of the more challenging aspects of the program comes from the parameters of the competition changing every year. This year, they outlawed expanded glass beads from the mixes.

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Steven Susmarski, president of the UI ASCE chapter, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that, in addition to coming in first, his chapter also received the Most Improved award out of a pool of around 300 chapters.

Susmarski wrote that while he hasn’t had the most hands-on involvement in the concrete canoe competition as president, he cannot express how elated he was that the club received first place.

“During these tough times, we have been doing everything we can to improve our club and try to bring in new members, but the virtual meetings and not being able to host events has proved this to be a difficult task,” Susmarski wrote. “Nevertheless, our excellent concrete canoe team has shown that no matter what the circumstances, we can excel.”

UI sophomore Robert Yerushalmi, another captain with the chapter, is currently in his second year in the club. He said the chapter has two focus groups — graphic design and materials testing, the latter being the one he was more involved with.

Yerushalmi said holding a leadership position in the chapter for the first time during a pandemic was hard but went smoother than he expected. The leaders of the club met separately – outside of group meetings but still via Zoom – to work out particular plans and communicate better, he said.

“The planning was great, and I have to shout out Hannah DeBruin,” Yerushalmi said. “Probably one of the best leaders I’ve seen.”

Yerushalmi said he is excited to go to nationals even though he wishes it would be in person. According to him, the design will likely stay the same as it was for the Midwest conference, with the only potential changes coming from the third party double checking the numbers at nationals.

“It’s just a great opportunity,” Yerushalmi said, “I’m…personally excited to be presenting again and get to share whatever we have with others.”

Nationals will take place June 25 through June 27.