The Cal Poly Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge teams will head to their national competitions after placing first overall at the annual regional Pacific Southwest Conference, held April 6 to 8 at University of California, Irvine.

The two civil engineering clubs applied the skills they learned in classrooms to the real world. It worked out well, especially for Concrete Canoe, according to civil engineering senior Ian Buchanan.

“In the past 21 years, I think we’ve placed top five in the nation 17 times,” project manager for Concrete Canoe Buchanan said.

The Concrete Canoe is meant to mimic a real-life engineering project and is almost entirely student-run.  At the beginning of the year, team members are given a specific set of rules which can stretch up to 100 pages long, to follow when constructing their canoe.

The contests, which begin toward the end of the academic year, grade the canoe teams based on four categories: the final product, an oral presentation followed by a question and answer, the technical designer port and finally the actual races, which are divided into short and long distances.

“I actually joined when I was a third-year. I was originally interested because it gives us sort of an outreach kind of outside of school, Buchanan said. “In class we learn all these theories, but this is an actual chance to do some physical hands-on working. There’s no real textbook that tells us how to make the canoe to fit the rules so a lot of the skills we learn revolve around problem solving. It really embodies that Learn by Doing attitude.”

Cal Poly’s Steel Bridge team will also head to nationals after scoring second in the competition last year. Unlike Concrete Canoe, a portion of the Steel Bridge competition is actually assembling the bridge. The process starts when the team is given the set of rules. The team then plans their build through programs like AutoCAD.

After dedicating the entirety of Fall 2016 to designing the bridge, the team orders their steel and begins to weld the parts.  The team then practices quickly assembling their bridge in preparation for the competition.  The competition is graded on a variety of factors, such as how much weight the bridge can handle, the weight of the bridge itself, how fast the bridge can be put together and how efficiently the bridge is put together.

Being involved in Steel Bridge provided Hannah Lancaster, Steel Bridge project manager, opportunities to gain real-world experience.

“For example, our welder has learned that welding things upside down is not the best way to weld things,” civil engineering senior Lancaster said. “We all put a bunch of time into this project, Winter quarter we’re putting in around 35 hours a week. It’s just something that we’ve come to love.”

When building the bridge, as many as six and as few as three workers are allowed to work. Every competition, workers are assigned a price per minute, causing teams to find a balance between amount of workers and how much time they take.

“A lot of times we civil engineers will design something on a program and never really get to see if it’s even possible to build,” Lancaster said. “Steel Bridge gives us that awareness of what we can actually do; it let’s us know these sort of constructibility.”

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