JONESBORO — Concrete canoes are a 30-year tradition in the civil engineering department at Arkansas State University, but it’s the first year the A-State team advanced from regional to national competition.

Every year students take part in a national-level competition sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, according to Jason Stewart, director of civil engineering and accreditation.

“This competition is designed to allow students chapters of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to participate,” Stewart said. “We began competing 30 years ago on a regular basis.”

John “Justus” Sawyer, a team captain for this year’s concrete canoe team, said he built a canoe each of his four years.

“The very first canoe was an adventure and a learning process,” he said. “I only got to help on pouring day.”

Sawyer said the following year, he was part of the design process.

“It was heavy,” he said. “We took it to Louisiana and raced it at Louisiana Tech; we placed fifth.”

Sawyer said as time went on, students were able to learn from each project to improve the next year’s design.

“In 2019-2020 we made one with good weight and good strength, but we did not get to race it due to the pandemic,” he said.

Stewart said this year’s competition was also different because of the pandemic.

“Students were not required to actually build a concrete canoe,” he said. “They had to submit a design paper and do an oral presentation over concrete canoe design.”

Stewart said in past competitions, students got to design, build and race canoes.

Despite not requiring the actual construction of the canoe, Stewart said he made the project part of the senior design project.

“We began construction in February ...,” Stewart said. “This is not the typical kind of concrete you see poured out of a concrete truck.”

“They started the testing process to see what kind of concrete would be best, and they ended up testing nine different types,” he said. “The rules changed from last year so (students) had to start from scratch.”

Part of the final testing process involved taking the canoe to Craighead Forest Park.

“Students had to swamp the canoe, which means sink it then let it float back to the top,” he said, noting the canoe performed beautifully. “Students were allowed to encase foam into the nose and tail of the canoe in Styrofoam.”

Stewart said once the canoe passed the swamping test, students were able to paddle the canoe on the lake.

“Its buoyancy was fantastic,” he said.

Sawyer was a senior this year, and also president of the Student Chapter of the ASCE.

“It was intimidating,” he said of building the canoe, “but after we put as much as we did into it, it was exciting to see the results.”

Stewart said the canoe is on display at the north end of the civil engineering building, while students wait to compete in the national competition on June 25-27 hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

“Students will have to submit a design paper, and give an oral presentation. They also have the option to do an enhanced focus area report,” Stewart said.

As for where 30 concrete canoes are stored, Stewart said most of them are disposed of for a good cause.

“Every year for the last four years we have had a canoe smash. We put a big tarp down, and charge a dollar a swing to trash the canoe,” he said, noting the money has all been donated to an A-State faculty member for assistance with a child who has cancer.

“His son is a patient at St. Jude. We turned this into a charity event,” Stewart said. “We raised about $200 this year, and although it is not much, at least it can help with gas back and forth to the doctor.”