Bridge and canoe teams build on donor resources

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UW-Madison’s Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe teams give College of Engineering undergraduates something much more than frequent trips to their respective regional and national competitions. To build a bridge to exacting specifications, or make a concrete vessel float, undergraduates get their hands dirty and develop a practical set of engineering and building skills.

“Undergrads come into these teams and they don’t know how to use hand tools, or sandpaper, or how concrete works,” says Barbara Thunder, a fifth-year senior and president of UW-Madison’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, parent organization to both Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe. “To get to do all that is invaluable.”

Students on the Steel Bridge team have to not only analyze their bridge design to make sure it meets the competition’s ever-changing rules, but also are responsible for machining and welding together bridge components. Concrete Canoe team members mix up different blends of concrete to determine which will make the best boat.

To make the most of their teamwork and ingenuity, Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe team rely on a wealth of donated resources. Endres Manufacturing in Waunakee opens up its shop and the services of a welder each year to help the Steel Bridge students create bridge components. 

For Concrete Canoe, Thunder points out, more resources mean more room to experiment and work toward solutions.

“We can have the lightest aggregates we want,” Thunder says. “We can do as many mixed-concrete tests as we want to define the mix that we want to use, so it’s very directly related to donations.”

Those donations can come in the form of materials or services, but the teams also rely on the civil and environmental engineering department’s donor-supported discretionary fund to make their experiments possible.

“Donated resources help send the ASCE student chapter’s teams to regionals every year,” Thunder says.

Scott Gordon