Concrete canoe

Southern Illinois University Carbondale engineering students Emily Waldon (front) and Emily Peterson compete in the concrete canoe and steel bridge competition held recently at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Waldon, a junior in civil engineering and team captain, from Horn Lake, Miss., and Peterson, a senior in civil engineering from Mulberry Grove, took second place in the women’s endurance portion of the concrete canoe contest. (Photo provided)

April 29, 2016

Steel bridge, concrete canoe teams win contests

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale made history last week, winning the top spot in two regional competitions aimed at testing their abilities and creativity as up-and-coming engineers. 

The SIU teams took first place in both the steel bridge and concrete canoe design competitions, held April 22-23 at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. It is the first time the SIU teams have both won first place in the two competitions. The American Society of Civil Engineers sponsors the event; the American Institute of Steel Construction co-sponsored the steel bridge contest, as well. 

Sanjeev Kumar, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at SIU, said the students on both teams worked extremely hard. 

“Participating in these competitions is not only good for us to get great visibility at the national and even international stage, it helps our students learn skills that are not taught in a classroom,” Kumar said. “Winning these competitions, of course, gives us bragging rights. But more importantly it shows that our students are prepared and ready to handle real-world challenges.” 

Kumar said the accomplishments will help students greatly when they graduate and enter the workforce in the competitive engineering field. 

“Employers in the civil and environmental engineering arena look for students who are leaders, which is exactly what these competitions prepare them to be,” Kumar said. “I am proud of what our students have accomplished. Everyone associated with civil engineering at SIU is excited.” 

The win means the teams next will compete at the national competitions. The steel bridge competition is slated for May 27-28 at Brigham Young University in Utah. The concrete canoe competition will take place in June at the University of Texas in Tyler. 

In the steel bridge contest, the team starts each year by researching possible designs and types of steel for their bridge, looking at factors such as deflection, stress and bending moments to create the best bridge possible. The team then researches, designs and fabricates a scaled simulation of a steel bridge before the competition. During the contest, the team must build the entire bridge from the ground up while considering display, construction speed, lightness, stiffness, construction economy, structural efficiency and overall performance.  

William Eichfeld, professor of civil and environmental engineering at SIU and faculty adviser to the teams, said hard work made the difference. 

“We are all very happy and these students worked so hard on this,” Eichfeld said. “This group in particular really had an organization and really stuck to it and remained very focused on the details. And I think they really enjoyed what they were doing.” 

In the steel bridge competition the SIU team cleaned up, winning top marks in bridge stiffness, lightness, economy, efficiency and display. The team also took third place in the construction time contest. 

Mansor Sufran, senior in civil engineering from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and captain of the team, said the win was especially sweet as it marked the first time in 10 years a bridge team advanced to the national competition. 

“So the victory is a big thing for the team and the college,” he said. 

Building a canoe out of a heavy material such as concrete is an obvious engineering challenge for the canoe team. To do so, teams must experiment with different types of concrete mixes and designs. Judges rate canoes based on appearance, aesthetic qualities, speed and other characteristics.  

To win first place overall, the SIU concrete canoe team competed in such events as the design report, oral presentation and aesthetics, as well as racing the canoe in men’s, women’s and co-ed endurance and sprint competitions. 

Also as part of the canoe contest, Jacob Palmer, from Washington, Ill., placed third in the technical paper presentation. His paper addressed the question on an engineering ethics topic: “When working in a foreign location, what defines the design standard which the engineer can rely on to have met his or her ethical obligation to provide a safe and sound engineering solution or design?” 

Members of the concrete canoe team included:



Christian Peterson, junior in forestry


Joseph Dewerff, sophomore in civil engineering


Nicole Hanke, senior in civil engineering


Dana Mitchell, junior in computer engineering


Carrie Zillman, senior in civil engineering


Alex Kreke, senior in civil engineering

Evergreen Park

Arno Blazys, senior in civil engineering


Mark Sutton, senior in civil engineering


Alyssa Davis, senior in civil engineering

Mulberry Grove

Emily Peterson, senior in civil engineering


Jordan Dalaviras, senior in civil engineering


Cody Bauer, senior in civil engineering


Jessica Wignes, sophomore in civil engineering


Marissa Campobasso, freshman in civil engineering


Travis Walk, senior in civil engineering


Tyler Windel, senior in mechanical engineering

Brandon Hemmen, senior in civil engineering


Colton Miskell, junior in civil engineering


Horn Lake

Emily Waldon, junior in civil engineering and team captain



Addison Jobe, graduate student in civil engineering


Overland Park

Mardi Buchanan, senior in civil engineering


Daniel Lee, a sophomore in civil engineering from Tawau, Malaysia

Members of the steel bridge team, their year and major at SIU, and hometowns included:



Johnathan Stitgen, senior in civil engineering


Thomas Fitzpatrick, senior in civil engineering


Dillon Ruholl, junior in civil engineering

Grand Ridge

Alexis Bower, sophomore in civil engineering

Le Roy

Erik Woelfle, junior in civil engineering

Mount Prospect

Jacob Brown, junior in civil engineering

Jimmy Schumann, junior in civil engineering

New Lenox

Patrick O’Sullivan, junior in civil engineering


Nicholas Berty, junior in civil engineering


Austin Caldwell, senior in civil engineering


Jared Linze, senior in civil engineering


Philip Williams, junior in civil engineering  


Cape Girardeau

Elijah Greer, sophomore in civil engineering


Mansor Sufran, senior in civil engineering from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Steel bridge

Engineering students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, foreground, work to assemble their steel bridge during the annual steel bridge and concrete canoe competition, held recently at Missouri University of Science and Technology. (Photo provided)