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Civil engineering students get lessons in teamwork and hardships at regional competition

By Joe Barbaree

ATHENS, Ohio (May 21, 2012) – The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Ohio Valley Student Conference gave Russ College civil engineering undergraduate students an opportunity to sink or swim recently.
Ohio University was one of 12 schools to attend the regional conference, held March 29-31 at the University of Pittsburgh.

Preparation -- which takes several forms all pertaining to civil engineering -- began months in advance, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Deborah McAvoy the group’s advisor.

“In a classroom setting we can talk about all aspects of civil engineering, but we can’t actually have work designed, built and evaluated,” McAvoy said. “This gives them a real feel of how you go from A to Z in a project.”

The first day of the competition consisted of presentation of technical papers about ethics and globalization, followed by a surveying challenge the next day. Teams also tested canoes they constructed of concrete in the months leading to the competition. The final day of the competition included testing of steel bridges that the teams had built, as well as an environmental engineering task.

DSC00889“We were charged with treating hydraulic fracturing flow-back water in an hour, using only household chemicals,” said Joe Cook, about his involvement as team captain for the environmental challenge. “Chemical composition of ‘frack’ water varies greatly, so the treatment method had to be a coverall method.”

According to McAvoy, the competition challenged students’ peer relationships as well as their academic knowledge.

“Probably the biggest advantage to this experience is learning to work on a team,” she said. “This is a big team -- not four or five good friends, -- a team of all class levels,” she noted.

And unlike some teams that have budgets up to $50,000, enabling them to have their canoes and steel bridge designs professionally manufactured, the OHIO students work on a limited budget and complete all the work themselves.

According to McAvoy, the students had to tackle some tough challenges that arose.

When the concrete canoe sprung a leak the second day of the competition, some students wanted to give up, but McAvoy pushed them to work together and patch the vessel – and they ended up completing all canoe events that day.
Ohio University ASCE chapter president Andrea Adams says the team did what it aimed to do.

“While we did not place high in the individual competitions, we set out with goals at the very beginning of the school year, and each competition team achieved those goals,” Adams said.

McAvoy hopes to obtain greater funds next year – the team relies heavily on donations -- to up the ante for the Russ College’s team, because she plans to place higher every year and keep OHIO students in the running.

“You can’t say enough about what our students get out of the competition,” she said. “We have a really great group. They deserve the opportunity.”

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