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UW–Madison student engineers to host concrete canoe competitions

January 24, 2020 By Alex Holloway
Photo: 4 people in life vests and red headbands rowing a concrete canoe named "Prairie Chevron" on a lake

UW–Madison engineering students race in the National Concrete Canoe Competition in 2017 in Golden, Colorado. Photo: Barry Staver for the American Society of Civil Engineers

Badger engineers will welcome peers from across the Midwest and the nation as they host a pair of American Society of Civil Engineers concrete canoe competitions in spring and summer 2020.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s ASCE student chapter will host the ASCE Great Lakes Student Conference regional competition April 2 to 4 and the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition June 13 to 15. Nineteen teams are slated to compete in the regional competition, while as many as 25 teams may compete in the national competition.

Teams build canoes for the competitions and are judged on their design paper, an oral presentation, their final product and races on the water. UW–Madison won five consecutive national titles from 2003 to 2007, and placed seventh in the 2019 national competition in Melbourne, Florida.

The first National Concrete Canoe Competition was held in 1988. But the concrete canoe tradition itself dates back to the 1960s, according to the ASCE, when a small number of student chapters held intramural competitions. UW–Madison hosted the national competition in 1996 and 2002, and has a long history of success in the event.

As the events draw nearer, UW–Madison ASCE chapter co-chairs Finley Myers and Alison Pagel say students will be hard at work on preparations. With the canoe races set to take place on Lake Wingra, the chapter has focused on securing funding and volunteers to help with the event, with assistance from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“It’s going to take money to run these competitions,” Myers says. “We’re trying to fund-raise with companies and also are reaching out to civil engineering students and others around campus. While we’re still focused on fundraising, we’re starting to work on getting volunteers, which is a large effort.”

The students have a $50,000 fundraising goal for the competition. Myers says they have, so far, raised about $25,000.

UW–Madison’s ASCE chapter, which has about 30 members, also is hoping to find about 40 nonstudent volunteers per day to assist with the two-day regional competition and 30 per day for the national finals.

Beyond fundraising and volunteers, students are working to spread word of the event across the university and in the broader Madison community.

“I have professors with kids, and I talk to them about it,” Pagel says. “They’re really excited and want to bring their kids to see these concrete boats that float, and to see these engineering students from different schools compete with something they’ve been working on all semester. I think the community will also be pretty interested in this, so we’re working to build awareness as the spring semester approaches.”

Bill Likos, department chair and Gary Wendt Professor in civil and environmental engineering, says it’s a tremendous honor for the college to once again host the competition.

“This is entirely a student-run event,” Likos says. “They’re doing everything from planning to marketing and fundraising, and it’s been really impressive to see how well they’re doing all of these things.”

While students are leading the way, Likos says it’s important for alumni to also offer support.

“This is a huge undertaking and we need all the support we can get from our alumni,” he says. “This is exactly the type of hands-on opportunity that students and many of our alumni will be able to appreciate.”

For more information about the event, to volunteer, or to make a financial contribution, contact Myers at or Pagel at

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