The Oklahoma State University team finished in 11thplace at last year's competition.
The Oklahoma State University team finished in 11thplace at last year's competition.

For 20 years, teams of engineering students from around North America have competed for the concrete industry's version of the America's Cup. More than a race across a lake, the National Concrete Canoe Competition combines research, engineering, mix design, and construction techniques with effective paddling.

Getting a 300- to 400-pound, 20-foot-long, concrete craft to float may seem impossible. Yet thousands have met the challenge. And fortunately for the concrete industry, the annual event has been an effective opportunity to allow young women a great chance to race alongside their male engineering counterparts as they embark on their careers.

It's hard to measure just how much this competition has encouraged women to become a part of the concrete industry. But judging from this year's organizational charts submitted by the 22 teams that met last month in Seattle, women are more than spectators.

By rule, each team must include women. After all the hard work of design and construction is completed, the teams must paddle their creations through five races. Three events require women paddlers—a slalom endurance (three women), a sprint (two women), and a coed sprint (two women and two men).

On many teams, women hold positions of responsibility for every task. For example, Nicole Walker is the hull design and construction manager on Gladigator, the University of Florida's canoe. Sky Orvis handles structural engineering for the hull on M. C. Escher, Cal Poly's entry. Anna Santino is construction engineer and coordinated the hull design on Ohio Northern University's Northern Edge. Nicole Brostowitz, Ivy Harmon, and Jodi Zwickey play key roles on Descendant's team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A key position on each team is the project manager who coordinates the timing of all events. Adina Boyce does this as the project engineer on City College of New York's The Shepard. Christine Harms facilitates work on the Cerulean on the University of Nevada-Reno team. Kara Cunningham oversees these duties on Top Gun, the canoe from Fairmont (W.Va.) State University. And Elizabeth Miemmietz serves as co-project manager on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville's Whiskey Team.


But if there was to be a sentimental favorite, you might place your bet on New Mexico State University's For Pete's Sake. Mary Chapler and Melissa Cline are co-captains on a team on which women hold all the key positions. Adding to this dynamic duo are Concepcion Mendoza, Kristin Fajardo, Haley Cowen, and Ruth Jaris.

And behind every successful event, there's often a person who has been instrumental in not only preparing the way, but also being a mentor.

Kelly Mawby never thought she'd have to know the difference between a gunwale and rocker when she began her job in the marketing department at Master Builders, now BASF. She realized she'd have to learn about concrete, admixtures, and masonry, but canoe design was not on her research list.

That's changed, because Mawby has served as coordinator for the event the last 17 years. “I've been at this so long, I'm getting to know not only the returning participants, but soon some of their kids will be old enough to become involved,” she explains.

Mawby is looking forward to this year's event, but for a special reason: This is her last year as chief steerperson. The American Society of Civil Engineers will soon assume leadership of all the administrative details. Still, she's anticipating renewing contact with the small contingent of alumni who have been invited to a special reception honoring the event's 20th year.

To learn more about the National Concrete Canoe Competition visit

Visit the Women in Concrete page for more columns, information on our LinkedIn group, and additional resources.