Concrete Canoe Team Makes a Splash with Top Honors at Regionals

The University of Florida’s American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Concrete Canoe (UFCC) team left an indelible mark by placing first overall at the ASCE Southeast Symposium in March. Securing their ticket to the national competition in June, they swept all five race events, including Women’s Slalom, Men’s Slalom, Women’s Sprint, Men’s Sprint, and Coed Sprint, in the ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition. Their attention to detail and innovative design earned them first place in the Final Product category. 

Sydney Sutherland (left) and Abigail Fronk (right), UFCC’s project managers, highlight the power of collaboration and commitment. Their leadership propelled the team to float above the competition.

To sweeten the win, UF’s ASCE student chapter achieved back-to-back first place finishes in the regionals for Concrete Canoe, Steel Bridge, and overall competitions, marking the second time in almost a decade they have achieved this, echoing their similar success in 2014 and 2015. The concrete canoe design team is a student group within the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE), which houses the Department of Civil & Coastal Engineering and the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences. 

Dive into the world of water as we paddle alongside Sydney Sutherland and Abigail Fronk, UFCC’s project managers, to talk about the team’s skillful collaboration and dedication to floating above the competition. With their sights set on nationals, the team’s success stands as a testament to their collaboration and ingenuity. 

How did you learn about the Concrete Canoe design team, and what motivated you to join? 

Sutherland, a fourth-year civil engineering student: “I first found out about concrete canoe when I toured UF as a high school senior. At that time, I had no idea I wanted to go into civil engineering, so it really seemed like fate when I ended up joining ASCE and getting exposed to concrete canoe for the second time. I decided to ultimately join after my first experience at ASCE conference and seeing the camaraderie that UFCC fostered.” 

Fronk, a third-year civil engineering student: “I learned about the Concrete Canoe design team through the American Society of Civil Engineers. I was intrigued by the canoe aspect, since my family and I like to paddle on the weekends. Also, my mentor was the Concrete Canoe project manager at the time, and she encouraged me to apply to get involved and meet other engineering students.” 


What are your main responsibilities, and how do you prioritize tasks? 

Sutherland: “My main responsibilities as project manager include creating and adhering to the project schedule, facilitating both team and university communication, organizing material procurement, and overseeing general project development.” 

Fronk: “As a project manager, my responsibility is to both manage and lead the team. I work on and submit deliverables to the Concrete Canoe Competition Committee (C4) on behalf of the group, while encouraging new innovations or improvements in our process.” 


What has been the most rewarding aspect of leading the Concrete Canoe team? 

Sutherland: “The most rewarding part of leading UFCC is finally getting to see all the hard work come to fruition at conference. Seeing not only the culmination of our hard work, but also how much my team has grown over the year, makes this job incredibly fulfilling.” 

Fronk: “Watching my teammates step into their roles on the team, invest into the project, and develop meaningful relationships has been one of the most rewarding aspects of leading this team.” 


Can you share a memorable moment or achievement from your time as a project manager? 

Sutherland, who has been on the team for two years: “One of the best memories I have of my time as project manager is bringing the practice canoe out to the lake and putting it in the water. That moment marked a significant milestone as Abby and I both were so moved to see the canoe finally in action on the lake, servicing our paddling team.” 

Fronk, who has been on the team for three years: ” One of the most memorable moments as PM was seeing our finished practice canoe at Lake Wauburg for the first time, which is where we store past canoes for paddling practice. That day, a product of our planning and fabrication became part of UFCC history.” 


How do you handle conflicts or setbacks within the team, and what strategies do you employ to keep morale high? 

Sutherland: “To handle conflicts and setbacks, it was important for project management to remain flexible. I tried my best to keep an open mind when it came to any setbacks and maintain effective communication to work through the issue.” 

Fronk: “The team holds captains’ meetings every Sunday afternoon to facilitate open communication about scheduling, budget, and project progression. Each subteam talks about their own goals, successes and challenges, which allows for a proactive approach to possible obstacles.” 


How has your experience with the Concrete Canoe team contributed to your personal and professional development? 

Sutherland: “This role has given me experience in ways I couldn’t imagine. Professionally, project management gave me the opportunity to expand my network and gain experience communicating with industry professionals.” 

Fronk: “I would not be who I am today without Concrete Canoe. My experience being a technician, captain, and project manager has taught me a lot about team dynamics, organization, and accountability. Additionally, the legacy of the team has opened several doors for professional growth. My involvement has connected me with a network of UFCC alumni that support us and understand the dedication it takes to be part of such a program. Personally, Concrete Canoe has had a profound impact on my life. I have met incredible people who have become my closest friends and with whom I share some of my favorite memories. I’ve also learned the importance of asking for help, being open to new ideas, and maintaining a positive attitude “ 


At the anchor of their success lies the unwavering support and guidance of Mark Newman, Ph.D., their chapter faculty advisor, Robert J. Thieke, Ph.D., civil department head and undergraduate coordinator, and Taylor Rawlinson, Ph.D., who serves as a de facto advisor to the Concrete Canoe team, offering constant assistance in the Weil Hall Structures and Materials Laboratory. 

They are determined to keep their momentum afloat as they aim for a top spot at the ASCE Civil Engineering Student Championships’ ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition, taking place from June 20 to 22 at Brigham Young University. In the past decade, UFCC has attended the national competition nine out of 10 times. During these appearances, they placed in the top three in seven of the nine events, securing three first place finishes, two second place finishes, and two third place finishes. 


By Reba Liddy 

ESSIE Marketing and Communications Specialist