A concrete example of experiential learning

Courtesy photo.

Over the last 12 months, more than three-dozen civil engineering students constructed a 240-pound concrete canoe for a regional engineering design competition. They nicknamed it “Strapless” in memory of last year’s craft that broke in half.

“Engineering is about constantly changing and improving,” said senior Brian Franklin, who helped reconstruct last year’s canoe with sealant and straps for a bicycle rack. “We wanted this year’s boat to reflect the path we’ve taken to get to this point.”

Bouncing back from that hard experience, in April, the club finished in sixth place in the 2011 New England Regional Concrete Canoe Competition organized by the University of Rhode Island’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Fifteen teams, from Boston to Quebec, were judged on canoe design, a written report, an oral presentation and the craft’s performance in five endurance races at Burlingame State Park, in Charleston, RI.

The Northeastern engineers spent some 2,000 hours designing and fabricating the canoe on a $6,000 budget. They used hollow recycled glass spheres, fine-grain silica and water to make a durable, low-density concrete mix.

Project manager Ezra Jampole, a senior who joined the team four years ago, credited his coursework and independent research with teaching him how pick the best materials for the concrete mix and perform a finite element analysis of the canoe’s strength.

“This project taught me how to take a design on paper and turn it into something you construct in the field,” said Jampole, who called building the canoe “a lot of fun.”

The highlight of the project, he said, was the finished product. “As soon as we took the canoe out of the mold, I knew we’d do pretty well in competition,” he said. “It had a really nice finish.”

Jerome Hajjar, professor and chair of the civil and environmental engineering department, praised the student’s teamwork.

“They were certainly a very cohesive team,” said Hajjar, who oversaw the remodeling of the soil and materials laboratory, where the students built the 20-feet long canoe. “They were extremely innovative and enthusiastic.”