Under the guidance of Dr. Derek Breid, assistant professor of engineering, six seniors – Reese Capo, Danielle Koehler, Michael Moresea, Eric Pennella, D.J. Rossi and Jonas Wudkwych - embarked on a year-long capstone project of building a functioning concrete canoe with the aim of sailing it on Saint Vincent Lake upon its completion.
Breid explained that the project is the product of the Engineering Department’s revamped curriculum, which includes an emphasis on a larger scope, group-based design projects for each students’ required capstone.
“Last spring,” Breid said, “I met with our junior students to give them an overview of what we’re looking for in a capstone and asked if they had any ideas in mind as far as projects or applications. One of the things I suggested was taking a look at some of the design competitions sponsored by various engineering societies. Over the summer, I heard from two of the students, Danielle and Jonas, who had looked into the concrete canoe competition offered by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). This seemed like a doable project for where our program is right now and the students seemed really interested in it.”
Since the beginning of the fall semester, the group has been tasked with every aspect of planning and constructing a functioning canoe. Such a broad project mirrors many real-world engineering projects, which require the cooperation of a group of engineers, each with a different specialty.
“This project brings in a lot of areas of engineering and a lot of concepts that maybe not every student has experience with,” said Breid. “It would give an opportunity for a chemical engineer and a material engineer and a mechanical engineer to all work together.”
He noted that the students concentrating in chemical and material engineering have been working to develop the proper mix of concrete and the process by which it is mixed, poured and cured, while the mechanical engineering students are tasked with analyzing the stresses produced by the canoe supporting its own weight, plus the weight of its occupants, while floating in the water.
“Part of the requirements,” he said, “is that the students are to analyze the design by modeling these stresses that are going to be put on the canoe and modeling the flotation. This includes measuring the force that the water is putting on the canoe, plus the canoe’s own weight and the weight it will be carrying. Doing mechanical analysis is a big part of it, as they’ll be modeling the stresses that are going to be developed and then work with materials engineers to see if the concrete mix works.”
Wudkwych, whose focus is mechanical engineering, has enjoyed working in a group setting and has been fascinated by watching the progress made.
“It has been great having a group of students with such different interests and knowledge working together. My focus has been working on the hull shape of the canoe and ensuring that it will float. We have two basic groups – the chemical and material engineering students are focused on the concrete mixture, while the mechanical students are working on the physical hull design. It has been really interesting applying the knowledge gained from school to a real-world problem.”
Koehler, who also has a mechanical engineering focus, said that projects like this are what initially drew her to the engineering field.
“My favorite aspect is watching the canoe become alive,” she said. “Taking an idea and building it is why I became an engineer in the first place. I have come up with so many designs, but have never actually built them. Now, I have the opportunity to bring an idea to life. We all intend to be paddling in Saint Vincent Lake before the end of the semester.”
The group met twice a week during the first semester to conduct research, test concrete mixtures and create the design of the canoe. They plan to move into the building stage in February and have the canoe ready to test by the early spring. While they are proud to be the first Saint Vincent contingent to take part in the concrete canoe capstone, Wudkwych and Koehler said that being the pioneers also comes with some challenges.
“We don’t have anyone that we can readily ask who actually has experience working on a concrete canoe,” said Wudkwych. “While we can research other schools in past competitions, it isn’t a replacement for actually experiencing completing a build.”
Koehler agreed, saying that it’s difficult to know whether the group is always on the right track, but she has faith in her and her colleagues’ work.
“We feel that we have put in a lot of effort up to this point and are confident that it will work out as planned.”
Though they may be the first SVC group to take part in the concrete canoe capstone, they don’t plan to be the last and have recruited a trio of underclass engineering majors in juniors Anthony Berardelli and Zachary Kuzel and sophomore Cara Luallen to help in this year’s project while gaining invaluable experience for the future.
“We felt if we invited underclassmen to join the project,” said Koehler, “the project could continue in the coming years.”
The students followed rules and parameters from previous ASCE concrete canoe competitions and are planning to form a chapter of the society at Saint Vincent, which will enable SVC to take part in future competitions. While they may not get to showcase this year’s project on a national level, Breid feels that the students are amassing significant hands-on experience that will prove invaluable for their future.
“This gives students experience in teamwork, designing, planning, building and testing,” he said. “We talk about career readiness and how to talk about yourself in interviews. How are they going to set themselves apart in an interview from someone who may have gone to a larger school? This capstone project is one of the ways. It’s something that’s pretty unique here.”