Concrete Canoe Team Rides 'Redemption' to National Engineering Competition

Mike Morlacci

posted June 02, 2017


Pitt-Johnstown’s Concrete Canoe team has gained a measure of reclamation with a vessel named Redemption.

The team of Pitt-Johnstown Engineering Division students won the regional competition in April and now looks to continue this ride in the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) National Concrete Canoe Competition (NCCC), June 17-19, at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO.

The competition annually provides students with a practical application of the engineering principles they learn in the classroom, along with important team and project management skills they will need in their careers, according to the ASCE. 

Pitt-Johnstown has sent seven teams to the NCC in the past 10 years. This is the first time Pitt-Johnstown has reached the nationals since the university hosted the event in 2014.

“Each year, our team picks a design theme for our canoe,” said canoe team Captain Savanna Johns. “This year, we chose the theme (brown-and-white color scheme) of the lifeboats from the famous ship Titanic because, although Pitt-Johnstown's 2016 canoe Einstein did not hit an iceberg, its hull was punctured during the men's endurance race, leading to its fifth-place finish and ultimate destruction at the end of the competition.

“This analogy led to the name Redemption because our goal for this year's canoe was to bring the team ‘redemption’ by recovering from last year’s accident.”

Pitt-Johnstown advanced to nationals by placing first in the Mid-Atlantic Student Conference, which was held April 7-9 at the University of Maryland. Pitt-Johnstown won three of four judged categories to earn first place.

Redemption weighs 350 pounds and is 19-feet, one-inches long. Work on the project started at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year in the Concrete Canoe lab, located in the basement of the newly renovated Engineering and Science Building on the Pitt-Johnstown campus. The Concrete Canoe team had 46 total members this year and was led by one captain and two co-captains.

A recent ASCE NCCC rule change required the team to develop an entirely new concrete mix than what was used in past competitions.

“We change our concrete mix every year, but this year the changes were especially large as a major rule change involving the mix was added,” said Johns, noting the new formula made the boat heavier. 

“Additionally, because the Engineering and Science building was under construction during the fall term, we were unable to access our lab or any testing equipment till January, giving us only about a month for mix testing.”

The team is among 20 regional student conferences represented in the national competition.

The Redemption team is prepared to again live up to its canoe's name.

"They truly are a Pitt-Johnstown team, with a loyalty to their teammates and to the Engineering Division," said Brian Houston, associate professor of civil engineering, and the team's academic advisor for 13 years. "They have always been rooted in practicality with a strong sense of community.

"Their connection to Pitt-Johnstown continues after graduation, with team members often returning to campus on 'pour day' to support the current team. 

"Advising these motivated young people is rewarding. It perpetuates and reinforces the real-world focus typical of our mission."

The ASCE states the event challenges the students' knowledge, creativity, and stamina, while showcasing the versatility and durability of concrete as a building material.

According to Popular Science, concrete can be made to float if it is shaped like a boat. A boat-shaped or hollow object will displace a volume of water greater than the actual volume of solid material in the object. The object is said to be buoyant when it floats due to low density.

Canoe Team

Pitt-Johnstown 2016-17 Concrete Canoe Team Roster

Captain: Savanna Johns

Co-captains: Joeseph Pavia and Justin Towsey.

Managers: Aaron Crown, Adrienne Tubo, Alice Gotwald, Brandon Schuerman, Brett Sherbine, Cody Kiser, Dakota Breindel, Danielle Majetic, Grady Smith, Rachael Stockert, Shawn Kaiser, and Steven Rouser.

Team members: Adries Nabbie, Andrew Seeger, Ashlee McMullen, Austin Snyder, Bernard Dunegan, Brad Tezak, Brent Barron, Brittany Perigo, Bryan Ihrig, Chris Houston, Damen Betlyon, Denis Johnson, Gabrielle Barclay, Heather Donatelli, Jake Arden, Joe Hullihen, John Hunchik, Jordan Matus, Kaitlyn Haney, Kristin Foster, Kyle Sarver, Laurel Donatelli, Madalyn Puskar, Mathew Bowen, Michelle Karnavas, Richard Orr, Sarah Dikum, Troy Luchau, William Dam, Yoichiro Furukawa, and Zachary Shopene.


The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is marking its 90th anniversary well as the 50th year of the campus in its Richland Township location. Pitt-Johnstown was founded in 1927 and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best in the Northeast” college, by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School,” and by Pennsylvania Business Central as a "Top 100 Organization.” The distinctive combination of Pitt-Johnstown’s people, programs, and place results in exceptional performance in preparing students for career and professional success. Pitt-Johnstown is the regional leader, educating for success in the Real World.