photo of Rowan concrete canoe team Jake Block
The Rowan University concrete canoe team.

Civil engineering history is a story of innovation – from the first roads and the genius of the arch bridge to the modern skyscraper and smart city.

And now the students at Rowan University in southern New Jersey have added their own chapter to that book of civil engineering breakthroughs: the concrete canoe cupholder.

It’s an innovation elegant in its simplicity, as practical as it is brilliant. Four circular impressions made during casting day, two on each side of the canoe. Perfect to keep the canoeist refreshed and comfortable during the race.

“It was an idea I brought up in passing,” said Jake Block, captain of the Rowan concrete canoe team. “What if we put cupholders in our canoe? A member of our team had an empty water bottle, so during casting, he pressed the water bottle in one side, and it actually worked. So now we have a picture of our team with a drink in one hand and a drink in their cupholder sailing across the ocean.”

Rowan will bring its cupholders and its concrete canoe to the 2024 ASCE Civil Engineering Student Championships this weekend at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

The finals of the 37th annual Concrete Canoe Competition, the Society-wide Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute Surveying Competition, and the Sustainable Solutions Competition: Waterfront Revitalization begin today, June 20, and conclude Saturday evening with the awards banquet.

photo of Rowan canoe cupholders Jake Block
Rowan's cupholder innovation.

For the record, Rowan debuted the cupholders innovation last year. Their canoe that qualified to nationals in 2023 had two cupholders. This year’s canoe, though, is twice as good.

“We do have four cupholders, yes,” Block said. “This is a big talking point. Whenever we bring it up to someone, we say, ‘Not only do we have two cupholders, we have four cupholders.’”

Rowan is among 25 student teams that qualified for the finals. It’s a great chance to compete but also connect with and learn from fellow students from around the country.

“We’re just looking for a good time,” Block said. “I think for most of us, this is our first time in Utah, so, on top of competing, we also want to explore our surroundings and see what’s out there. And it’s our second straight time to nationals, so we’re excited to see everybody, meet the other teams, and have some fun.”

The Rowan team’s canoe this year is named Chariot with a Roman Empire theme (switch the “w” for an “m” and Rowan becomes Roman, get it?). It begs the question: did the cupholder actually originate with the ancient Romans?

“I haven’t done my research, but we’re going to assume so!” Block said. “I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have cupholders.

“Where would they put their goblets and chalices?” 

Keep up with the ASCE Civil Engineering Student Championships all weekend on social media by following #ASCEChampionships.