The 2021 Youngstown State University concrete canoe team’s place in ASCE history is already secure.
This weekend when the team competes in the 2021 Society-wide Concrete Canoe Competition, Youngstown State will field the competition’s first all-female concrete canoe team.
“This experience can show young girls that they are capable of doing anything they want," said Youngstown State team member Emma Minamyer, already aware of her team's potential status as role models to K-12 students. "It also teaches young girls who are not traditionally exposed to the field of engineering what it is all about.”
In 2020, several ASCE events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition. But this year, things are a little bit different. The competition has gone virtual and is being hosted by ASCE and the University of Wisconsin–Platteville as part of the ASCE 2021 Virtual Concrete Canoe Competition+, June 25-27.
While the circumstances behind this decision were not ideal, it gave way to new opportunities for the teams competing. Prime example – the Youngstown State University all-female team.
“In a normal year, we would need males for some of the races. However, the virtual format presented this opportunity without penalty,” Minamyer said.
The virtual format means there won’t be any races at all. Instead, teams will be judged on their oral presentations, technical proposals, and enhanced focus-area reports.
All these changes didn’t keep the YSU concrete canoe team from competing. In fact, recruitment at the beginning of the year was pretty typical. Specifically creating an all-female concrete canoe team wasn’t a priority. It was simply about students coming together to create something that could represent their own strength and endurance through an uncertain year. Once the team was formed, things just fell into place and by chance, all the members were female.
“An all-girls team created a more comfortable environment for team members to gain experience while voicing their opinions and ideas for the project,” Minamyer said.
The virtual format also helped the team improve their communication skills and learn how to better adapt to unique situations – two critical skills needed to succeed in the competition and the profession.
But the path to victory would not be an easy one. Most team members were new to the competition. And even more challenging was the virtual format itself. Not having the opportunity to build a physical canoe lowered the team’s motivation.
“We thought we would go to another university for the regional event, and the students would enjoy the networking opportunities with other students. But that didn’t happen,” said Anwarul Islam, faculty advisor and professor at Youngstown State University.
“We could not go to the lake and compete. The students like to go out, see their canoes, and compare them to what the others [teams] created.”
Despite these challenges, the team forged on and prevailed at regionals. To make things even more memorable, their canoe – named “Malice Striker” and inspired by Viking lore and Norse mythology – secured the win at the last-ever Ohio Valley Student Conference. In 2022, the competition tides will shift following ASCE’s decision to realign student conferences to better fit with the Society’s geographic region boundaries.
With their regional win, the team joins their predecessors in YSU’s own version of Valhalla. And as a part of a small school, this is a huge triumph for the entire YSU village.
The university’s long line of competition wins has garnered a lot of interest and pride in the local community, from widespread media coverage to YSU’s use of winning canoes as a recruiting tool for high school students.
Back in 2015, several civil engineering companies created Civil Engineering Night at YSU, an event providing students with the opportunity to network and fundraise for the concrete canoe competition. Since then, the event has spotlighted the students and their achievements before civil engineering professionals, notable university officials, and even the Youngstown mayor.
And now that they’ve left their mark at YSU, there’s only a couple of things left for the 2021 team. First, make a splash at the national competition, just not in the literal sense. Second, dive into the profession and do the same.
“My advice to them is to get involved – with students, professionals, the community – and make an impact,” said Islam. “This is the biggest opportunity to make some impact. You cannot grow alone. If you want to grow, you have to grow with other people around you.”
The ASCE Foundation supports the ASCE 2021 Virtual Concrete Canoe Competition+, along with the Workshop for Student Chapter Leaders and Student Conferences, providing civil engineering students with hands-on learning experience and leadership opportunities. To support programs like these, visit https://www.ascefoundation.org/education-fund.