Cal Poly to Host Two Regional Competitions Attracting More Than 1,300 Students on April 4-6

Members of this year’s Cal Poly concrete canoe team includes, from left, civil engineering seniors Yin Ding, Jason Johnson, Lauren Tigue, Jonathan Mahmoud, Eleni Korogianos and Mason Breipohl, team project manager.

ASCE and AISC events will bring civil and environmental engineering students from 19 western universities and colleges in four states to San Luis Obispo

SAN LUIS OBISPO — More than 1,300 civil and environmental engineering students from 19 western universities and colleges in four states will converge on Cal Poly for the annual American Society of Civil Engineers’ Pacific Southwest Conference on April 4-6.

This three-day competition allows students, who hope to design the way people interact with the world, to put their civil or environmental engineering skills to the test. Throughout the conference, students are able to compete in a variety of both technical and non-technical events.

“Our goal is to facilitate lasting connections between student members of ASCE, not only with our own schools but others as well,” said Alissa Mimm, a civil engineering senior from Mission Viejo, California, and the administrative chair of the student organizing committee that has been planning the event for two years.

Professor Charles Chadwell, the chairman of Cal Poly’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, said these students “represent the next generation of civil and environmental engineers.” And while the competition and school spirit are important, participants will take away more than trophies and certificates.

“Many of the peers students meet from other schools may one day be their coworkers and collaborators,” he said.

Cal Poly has shined in past PSWC competitions, one of the 18 conference events held throughout the United States this spring, which serve as qualifiers for national ASCE finals.

The concrete canoe team is the defending champion of the National Concrete Canoe Competition. Their win in 2018 was the fifth time Cal Poly has won the “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering,” having previously taken the honors in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2017. 

The canoe is designed to float and go fast. The concrete is not Quickrete — a staple of do-it-yourselfers for anchoring fence posts and paving small walkways — but a specialty mix of aggregates and cement the team meticulously formulates to be light and strong. A typical hull is thinner than the width of a dime. Last year’s entry, “van Gogh,” was 19-1/2 feet long and weighed only 178 pounds.


This year, Cal Poly and the other 17 visiting teams will set up their boats on Dexter Lawn from 8 a.m. to noon on Thursday, April 4. Presentations will be held from noon to 5 p.m. in the Advanced Technology Labs building (No. 7). The canoes will race the next day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Lake Nacimiento.

In addition, Cal Poly’s chapter of American Institute of Steel Construction will host the Steel Bridge competition, which will include many of the same schools, on campus April 5-6. Structures will be on display at O’Neill Green from 2-4 p.m. Friday. The main competition will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday in the H-1 parking lot off Mt. Bishop Road.

Elaina Ryan, a civil engineering senior from Camarillo, California, said student teams must build a bridge 23 feet long and 3-feet-7-inches wide based on “a set of design requirements and challenges.” The competition mimics a “real-world” project with every aspect of the competition converted to dollar amounts. Ultimately, the most cost-effective bridge wins, she said.

“They design a bridge to meet these requirements while ensuring that the bridge is light, strong and can be assembled easily,” Ryan said. “The students then fabricate their bridge and create a construction technique. One of the most important parts of the competition is that the bridge must be able to break down into sections not exceeding 42 inches in length.”

The competition tests students understanding of civil engineering, problem solving and proficiency in fabrication techniques such as welding and machining. Teams also are timed reassembling their entries.

Other PSWC competitions include:

Collaboration Event
Students will be divided up into new teams to construct small bridges out of a variety of materials. The teams will be given dimensions and a budget to govern the construction of their bridge. The competition is timed and their design will be subject to judging and testing. The event will be held at the Nacimiento Lake picnic area. The event is sponsored by Kiewit Corp.

Environmental Competition
Teams will construct a water-filtration device for a winery and artisan olive oil producer that can restore runoff and wastewater so it can be reused in vineyard drip irrigation systems. Student designs typically are 5- to 10-feet tall depending on the type of filtration process used.

GeoWall Competition
Students will design and construct a retaining wall out of paper. The objective of the GeoWall competition is to design and build a model wrapped-faced mechanically stabilized earth retaining wall using kraft paper reinforcement. Teams bring a decorated 2-by 2-foot “sandbox” where they construct the wall. Teams must include two metal rods that are planted deep into the sand in their design so that weight can be added to further test their wall’s strength. 

Surveying Competition
Teams will set up surveying equipment and complete several set surveying tasks to display their knowledge of setup and technical components. The event will be held at Nacimiento Lake at the Pine Knoll Campground.

Sustainable Dam
Students design and build a small dam out of completely recycled materials. The typical design life of a structure is 50-100 years. When those structures are torn down it poses the problem of what to do with the pollutants. The competition is intended to promote critical thinking by young engineers about re-using materials.

Technical Paper Presentations
ASCE is the standard setter for the code of engineering ethics. Students from each university will give a presentation to a panel of judges and onlookers about an eighth canon in the code to “treat all persons fairly and encourage equitable participation without regard to gender or gender identity, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, or family, marital, or economic status.” Student papers must address what value this would add to the civil engineering profession.

Timber Strong Design Build
Students will design and construct prototypes for a sustainable student housing option. The dimensions are a 4-by 6-foot base and a maximum height of 8 feet. Teams are challenged to develop a concept for a new subdivision of sustainable, light-framed wood student houses that address population growth and increasing demand for housing. The structure must balance sustainability and structural durability with efficiency. The event is sponsored by Simpson Strong-Tie, American Wood Council and APA Engineering.

Transportation Poster Session
Participants have been asked to address the impact of increased traffic volumes at Highways 101 and 1. Students will explain their designs depicted on large posters that “make the on/off ramp for Highway 101 safer and friendlier to the community and create a design that also promotes biking and walking.

Photo information: Members of this year’s Cal Poly concrete canoe team includes, from left, civil engineering seniors Yin Ding, Jason Johnson, Lauren Tigue, Jonathan Mahmoud, Eleni Korogianos and Mason Breipohl, team project manager.

Contact: Jay Thompson

April 3, 2019

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