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Sink or Swim: Duke's ASCE Chapter Combines Creativity and Engineering

Duke's undergraduate ASCE team wins two awards at annual engineering competition.

When you’re building a canoe, it’s usually safe to assume that you aren’t considering how to work concrete into the design. But for students in the Duke chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), concrete was a requirement.

Luckily, there was a method to their madness.Duke ASCE Student Chapter with Concrete Canoe

One of the main events at the annual ASCE Carolinas Conference requires students to build a canoe made of concrete and race it against other canoes designed by engineering students from colleges across the Southeast. The conference, which took place from March 31 to April 1 and was hosted by UNC Charlotte, forces the undergraduate engineers to think of creative solutions to traditional engineering challenges, ranging from the design of a steel bridge to the creation of a water filtration system. Although the Duke team was able to test their concrete canoe in water, strong winds prevented the teams from racing their designs­­––but that didn’t stop them from taking home two prizes.

Team members Karyn Saunders, Alex Simmons, Hannah Wilen and Virginia Pan won third place in the environmental competition, during which students were required to design and build a process that would remove particles and organic materials from a water source.

Duke ASCE also earned third place in the Freshmore challenge, where freshman and sophomore students were required to visit various locations around UNC Charlotte’s campus and complete a series of mental and physical challenges to retrieve parts of a flagpole. The team, which included Hannah Wilen, Virginia Pan, David Onywoki and Courts Montgomery then raced to the finish line and assembled the flagpole to raise the Duke colors.

The two-day event challenges the participants to ‘think outside the box’ with their engineering solutions, while still providing the students with valuable experience about how to work creatively under pressure. Now, the team can look forward to the 2018 competition, when Duke will host the conference on its own campus.

For more information about the Duke chapter of ASCE, advised by CEE Professor of the Practice Joe Nadeau, visit: