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Lipscomb teams with Vanderbilt to host virtual civil engineering competition 

By Shelby Bratcher  | 

Concrete Canoe Story

Lipscomb University civil engineering students have competed in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Regional Conference competitions since 2015, but in 2021, Lipscomb was tapped to be the co-host of the national association’s regional competition along with Nashville’s Vanderbilt University on March 25-27. 

Each year, Lipscomb’s civil engineering students compete in the ASCE concrete canoe and the American Institute of Steel Construction steel bridge competitions. This year, most of their conference will take place virtually, with Lipscomb and Vanderbilt students and faculty writing the competitions, recruiting judges and fundraising. 

Although Vanderbilt has hosted in the past, this will be Lipscomb’s first time hosting the conference. Engineering students Meadya Doski and Alex Holzke, are leading Lipscomb’s portion of the conference planning; Alex Cummins, senior civil engineering and applied math major, is the project manager of the canoe team, and Juan Vazquez, junior civil engineering major, is the project manager for the steel bridge team. 

In most years, the ASCE conference includes competitions in design, structural integrity, aesthetics, academics and live races of concrete canoes. The AISC steel bridge competition has traditionally been held in coordination with the ASCE conference. 

“This conference is a three-day event where colleges in the region compete in a variety of engineering-related competitions,” Doski said. “There are also social events that encourage networking, and then the conference ends with an award banquet where all the winners are announced.” 

“Now that we are virtual, our goal is to maintain the excitement of the conference while still being safe at home. We’ve had to rewrite competitions to allow students to socially distance while competing as well as plan online social events that can allow hundreds of students at once,” said Doski. 

“Co-hosting with Vanderbilt has been great. They have a larger team who have responsibilities regarding social events and website designing. They are also partnering with the competition writing, fundraising and recruiting judges as well,” she said. 

While canoe engineering designs will be judged based on submitted plans, rather than in-person races or builds, there are three in-person competitions—including the steel bridge—that will be held on the Lipscomb University campus for students opting to attend the in-person portion of the event. 

Steel Bridge

AISC has developed a “Compete from Campus” option where judges will visit Lipscomb’s campus to observe and time the Lipscomb team’s construction. The bridge will then be loaded just as it would have been at the hosted event. 

The other two ASCE in-person competitions are optional because of fully virtual schools participating. These events, “Horseshoe Hoedown” and “Testing the Waters,” involve construction and design work that takes place following CDC social distancing guidelines. 

“Testing the Waters” allows students to create a water filter that generates drinkable water. “Horseshoe Hoedown” requires participants to create horseshoes out of concrete. Participating remotely, judges will use the team’s technical reports and the horseshoes’ overall look to select the winner. 

In addition, all participants are required to compete in the newly-written “Plan Reading for the O.K. Corral,” a test based on a set of provided plans and construction documents. Teams will work to complete the test as quickly and accurately as possible to earn the best grade from the judges. 

Dr. Todd Lynn, the ASCE student chapter faculty advisor, provides encouragement, guidance and oversight to students throughout this process, even more so now that Lipscomb is co-hosting. 

One of the best aspects of the concrete canoe and steel bridge projects and the ASCE conference are the tools and lessons that the students pick up along the way, he said. “Some of the competitions involve technical content and require technical competency and proficiency which reinforces students academically,” said Lynn. 

“Leadership and project management skills are essential to be successful at the conference and later in practice. These competitions provide a platform for exercising these skills. Moreover, co-hosting brings a very real and tangible component into the mix since success is not defined by how one places in an event,” he said. 

Cummins, project manager of the canoe team for the second year in a row, described the conference planning as a “huge undertaking.” 

“This project has taught me how to manage time, people, resources and a budget. I’ve also grown a lot technically. Going to the conferences brings the whole department together and is

a really fun way to embrace all of the challenges and possibilities of engineering,” said Cummins. 

Lipscomb’s faculty will serve as judges this year, as well as colleagues from the CEE Department's Board of Advisors and potentially Lipscomb alumni.

Concrete Canoe Board