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Engineering students make splash with canoe race

The Parthenon

Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 09:04

Twenty-eight Marshall University engineering students represented their school by building and racing concrete canoes, designing and constructing steel bridges and many other engineering activities during the 2012 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Virginias Conference.

The three-day conference took place at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Friday and involved students from 14 schools throughout Virginia and West Virginia participating in 11 events.

Tyler Spurlock, captain of Marshall’s concrete canoe team and senior engineering student, said this conference acts as a sort of climax to the academic year.

“You take what you learn from class and physically apply it and actually see it work,” Spurlock said. “It really felt good because as a senior, I’m heading out into the real world, and you kind of wonder whether or not you’re going to be able to live up to expectations – taking what we learned, applying it and doing well against another engineers I feel about validated our education.”

The process is to test, test and test some more and then to actually build the concrete canoe was a months long, time-consuming process Spurlock said.

“We started off with the conceptual design of the canoe,” Spurlock said. “A lot of teams purchase molds from specifications provided by ASCE, but we didn’t want to do that. They are expensive so we decided on making our own mold using an existing canoe that I owned as a template. We took that mold and did some analysis on it and tried to figure out how we could build it out of concrete and make it work.”

Spurlock said there were many roadblocks along the way, with each success bringing a new barrier, but he said it was nothing he and his team couldn’t overcome.

“We had to figure out how to make the canoe light enough to float so we had to put the foam in it, but at the same time, we had to make sure it wouldn’t break so we had to find out a way to put some reinforcement in it,” Spurlock said. “Every time we thought we wouldn’t make it we always jumped the hurdle. Each hurdle we picked up more and more steam and moved closer to the finish line.”

The concrete canoe team came in second overall for their category. They earned two first-place honors, but unfortunately for the team, their canoe wasn’t run on steam, and they fell behind in the canoe race. Spurlock said it was okay because it was a great learning experience for the team.

“Our canoe had one major flaw,” Spurlock said. “We didn’t have the chance to put the canoe in the water before the competition. We assumed it would handle, the same way that my aluminum canoe would handle but that was not the case. We actually made our canoe too buoyant - there wasn’t enough canoe in the water to steer it.”

Even though he graduates this year, Spurlock said he’s considering finding ways to hang around. He said his time at Marshall and facing hurdles with his team has put engineering in his blood, and he’s not ready to give that up.

The concrete canoe competition was perhaps the most high-profile of the events, but there were many events the young engineering students had a chance to be involved in.

The concrete bowling and recycled mini-golf were crowd favorites. The T-shirt design contest showcased the student’s artistic talents, and the steel bridge competition gave students the chance to be creative and practical. Marshall also had teams in the surveying, environmental, oral presentation and technical paper categories.

Marshall is the new kid on the block in this decades old conference. This was only their second year competing, and they still had a strong showing coming in first, second or third in five of the 11 events, with first places finishes in the concrete bowling challenge, presentation and final product portions of the concrete canoe competition and aesthetics in the steel bridge competition.

“They did remarkably well,” said Professor Jeffery Huffman, associate professor of engineering. “I’m constantly getting emails from other chapters congratulating us on our success. I shook many hands this weekend from other faculty members that were thoroughly impressed with our showing at this conference.”

“Last year was our first time attending the conference,” said Nathan O’Kane, junior engineering student. “Last year was for reconnaissance – to sort of spy on the other teams to see what they did right and what to avoid. I think that’s why we did so well this year. We took lots of notes and really paid attention to how things work.”

The students who represented Marshall at the conference were: Bryan Bledsoe, Kristen Bobuk, Kevin Bollinger, Chris Brumfield, Austin Cox, Cassie Drown, Aaron Dunkle, Carissa Hansen, Phil Hatfield, Cory Jenkins, Andrew Keffer, Michael Kennedy, Jonathon Lambert, Gabriel Lawrence, Eli McWhorter, Jessica Meadows, Kyle Merritt, Charles Meyers, Danielle Nelson, Nathan O’Kane, Vimal Patel, Isaac Picklesmier, Tommy Rice, Gerald Rowe, Matthew Shropshire, Tyler Spurlock, Jese Vance and Zayyad Yakubu.

Shane Arrington can be contacted at


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