By  Eric Williamson
Madison Cannon and Ella Maulfair
Madison Cannon and Ella Maulfair dig deep in the “Row-Tunda” during the women’s A Team slalom. (Photos by Sanjay Suchak)

University of Virginia students solidified their reputation as a team to beat in what’s often referred to as the “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering.” 

Over the weekend, for the second year in a row, UVA undergraduates claimed second place at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ regional Concrete Canoe Competition. 

The challenge, which is both mental and physical, is part of the annual Virginias ASCE Student Symposium.  

“There’s a reason people don’t tend to make canoes out of concrete,” said fourth-year civil and environmental engineering student Leon Crawford, the team captain. 

Virginia Tech hosted this year’s event and took best overall. 

Leon Crawford and Matt Taylor on the Virginia team move into the lead against West Virginia University.

Students have to decide on a concrete formulation and canoe body. They have to write up a technical report and present their work. (UVA won 1st for Technical Presentation.) But they also have to become athletes, if they weren’t already. The final races Friday tested their endurance in sprints and through a slalom race course.

This year, mighty gusts of wind at Claytor Lake State Park fought participants with every stroke.

“I’m a little tuckered out,” said Madison Cannon, a fourth-year student after her slalom race with partner Ella Maulfair, a third-year. Like Crawford, the two women are both civil and environmental engineering students, though other types of engineers also were part of the team.

“The concrete canoes tend to be harder to control,” Maulfair noted.

Kneeling on concrete the entire time added to the test of physical stamina, they said.

Cannon and Maulfair get a taste of the hard winds off the lake.

Maulfair and Crawford are credited with reviving UVA’s interest in the student competition. 

Unlike at other schools, UVA Engineering students get to have meaningful participation right away, in their first and second years. The first- and second-years created and piloted their own boat, “The Sea Siren,” which served as the B Team entry. 

“You can wear the team shirt and start competing when you arrive at UVA,” said Ryan Henry, the team’s faculty adviser. 

Maulfair won the ASCE Virginia Section Scholarship at this year’s awards. Crawford won the Thompson Award for UVA, which is bestowed to the most committed ASCE student chapter member at each school in the Virginias Conference. 

Professor Henry Ryan advises the team in two for-credit courses.

In addition to the canoe awards, UVA placed first in the Environmental/Water Resources Competition and first in the Marr Technical Report Competition.


Learn more about UVA's Civil and Environmental Engineering Program

Whether the challenge is creating more efficient transportation, coping with rising sea levels, modernizing the built environment or providing clean water, our students, faculty and staff create resilient systems that meet the needs of our communities.

The Concrete Canoe Journey

Learn more about how the team crafted this sea-worthy vessel at UVA Today.