By COLLEEN MCCARTHY firstname.lastname@example.org 
Mississippi State University hosted 12 area universities for the American Society of Civil Engineers annual concrete canoe competition Friday.
After months of work, civil engineering students from throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, West Tennessee and Arkansas came to Oktibbeha County Lake to test out their concrete canoes. The two-day competition features several events, including the concrete canoe tests and races, a surveying competition, and a steel bridge competition. Each school is competing to win a spot at this year’s nationals which will be held in June in Evansville, Indiana, and will feature 25 universities from around the country.
The students from each school spend months preparing for the event. Each school comes up with a theme, generally something a little goofy. The MSU team was called the “Lucky Dawgs,” with their display covered in shamrocks. Christian Brothers University was not quite as optimistic, naming their boat “Fat Chance.” Then the teams work on a design for their canoe and come up with a unique concrete mix. Each team generally consists of around 20 people who work on the project throughout the whole school year, from the planning and organizing to construction.
“We put in a lot of work,” Andy Odenthal, from the MSU team said. “It’s probably about 500 man hours that we’ve put into this canoe, at least.”
The mix has to be lightweight and able to float, but still strong enough to withstand the day’s events. The mix must be a least 50 percent cement, but the other half is up to each team. The ASCE does require a sustainability component to the mix, like recycled materials.
“Our mix design is fairly unique. We have a couple of ingredients that nobody else has,” Odenthal said. Their team incorporated a rice by-product into their mix. “It’s a local product. We got ours from Jackson. So it’s actually a sustainable, renewable source.”
After months of hard work, the teams put their canoes to the test on Friday. While they compete in a series of races, the judges are looking for a lot more than just speed.
“They’re judged on how well the canoe is constructed. The canoe has to float even though it’s completely filled with water,” Dennis Truax, the head of the Department of Civil Engineering said. “They have to develop a display. The students race them in various heats.”
While the regional competitions are a lot of fun for the students, it also provides them with valuable experience.
“The concrete canoe competition really is a great activity because it combines a lot of activities you don’t get in classroom,” Ping Wei, the ASCE’s director of educational activities said. “Students have an opportunity to work on their communication skills, teamwork, time management, and project management.”
Along with the actual races, students have to give a presentation about their canoe. Although the winners won’t be announced until Saturday evening, the MSU team felt pretty confident about their chances to move on to nationals.
“Ours is probably one of the better canoes, we think,” Odenthal said. “Just the craftsmanship of it is a lot better than some of the other canoes.”
The schools also competed in a steel bridge building challenge on Saturday. They designed and constructed a bridge under challenging circumstances, while ensuring that their design would not do environmental harm. The university that won that event will move on to a separate national competition held at Texas A&M in May.