Meet Concrete Canoe Co-Project Managers, Ashley An and Stella Gregorski

Concrete Canoe Co-Project Managers, Ashley An (Year 4 CivE) and Stella Gregorski (Year 3 ChemE)

Tell us about yourselves
Stella: My name is Stella, I’m a Chemical Engineering student in third year. I’ve been involved with Concrete Canoe for three years now. I started out as a general member, then a concrete technical lead last year before becoming Co-Project Manager this year. Concrete Canoe is the only design team I’m a part of but I’m also very involved with the school spirit community and the band in EngSoc so I do a bit of everything. I find being involved with the student spirit community helps inform the way I approach leading the team.

Ashley: My name is Ashley I’m a Civil Engineering 2T1 student and I’ve been with the team for four years now. I started as a general member, then I was a concrete lead and last year I became co-project manager. So I’m continuing in that role this year. I’m also involved with other clubs within civil engineering dept. but I really enjoy doing Concrete Canoe because it’s a chance to bond with my team.

Any hobbies?
Stella: It’s kind of a cliche, but I’m really involved in music. I spend a lot of my time trying to discover new music and sometimes I dip my toe in arranging music because I think it’s a good way to decompress. I also really enjoy puzzles, so everyone buying puzzles off the shelves in mass quantities during the pandemic has not been appreciated. Us puzzle fanatics need them! I really enjoy my downtime, getting outside to walk around and just not doing anything for a while.

Ashley: Right now I’m living downtown, so it’s easy to go on walks and visit a lot of construction sites nearby. I like doing that in my free time especially after taking the construction management course in second year. I can now identify all the different structures and techniques. I also like to point out different types of cranes to my friends—which they find annoying.

How did you both get involved with Concrete Canoe?
Stella: For me I actually had a friend in first year who I met during frosh week and we were walking through clubs fair and she said, “Oh, I want to do a design team, you should do a design team with me.” I was so new to everything but I was like if I know friends are doing it, it could be fun. Basically, we came across the concrete canoe club first. Three years later, she's moved on to do other things and here I am, a Concrete Canoe project manager. A lot of my extra curricular activities centre around school spirit and student government so it’s nice to have a creative outlet and dip my toe into design.

Ashley: In first year I was in Track One, which is general engineering stream. I was introduced to concrete canoe by my friends who were also in Track One. We just kind of floated to this design team by like the mantra, “Concrete that can float,” which is pretty cool. Also, I think concrete canoe is a very close knit community, like a small family, and if you find friends there, you’ll have them for a long time.

What does the Concrete Canoe club do?
Stella: I’ll explain what we do in a normal year since this year has been kind of an anomaly. What we do is we design, build, test and race a canoe made entirely out of concrete. As Ashley said, it’s kind of an interesting process because you’d never expect concrete to be something that should float and that’s why it presents such an interesting engineering challenge. It’s also a good way to apply the information you learn in your courses in a fun way.

Over the summer, the exec team begins to lay out the foundation for the project by doing some light leg work by planning out sponsorships, material acquisitions and what not. In fall is when we have our recruitment and form our team. We have weekly meetings usually on Saturdays for an hour or two. We do a lot of testing of concrete mixes and members get to help us make the beams and are invited to the labs to test them during the week. We also have a lot of workshops during the fall in addition to those.

We have workshops to determine the aesthetic and theme we base our canoe design around. As well as potential costumes for competition or a display board and other spirit aspects. We also have a workshop on hull design because we do a lot of AI generation of hull designs throughout the year. We also have a structural workshop, so if you’re taking CIV100 that does help out with that.

In the spring we finalize things. We usually have a big casting day in February where we actually make the canoe. It usually takes about six to eight hours to make the canoe. Then in May is when we have our competition and take our canoe that’s sanded and ready to go. We present it and we actually get to race it. Race day is usually a really fun event because you get to go and cheer on your team and see how all the other team’s canoes compete.

How are you continuing the club's activities this year in a virtual world?
Stella: So it’s been a little bit of a challenge. Last year, our competition was canceled around March, even though we had already made a canoe. This year the CSCE made the tough decisions to cancel this year as well. So there isn’t an in person competition and they’re actually discouraging construction of an actual canoe.

We’ve been fortunate that the CSCE has put forward an alternate competition for this year. So what we will be doing is a little bit of forensic engineering by looking back at a past canoe and analyzing what could have been better. We’re going to do an in-depth discovery of what could have made it go wrong and what could be improved.

As I mentioned, our exec team put a lot of work this past summer laying out the groundwork for new innovations and materials. So, CSCE has given them the opportunity to look at a past canoe and figure out how those innovations and new materials would have made it better. It’s obviously a poor substitute for getting to make an actual canoe this year but we’re very thankful we can still apply all the hard work our exec team has done. We are going to be writing this report and doing all sorts of analysis which is kind of a cool opportunity for us to have a retrospective.

Can other students still get involved?
Stella: It’s a bit of a challenge this year when we aren’t doing as many in person events that people can actually come out to and experience. But the report isn’t something we are determined to keep just to our exec team. We love when people come out to meet us and want to join our little canoe family and continue to grow with us. The competition for the forensic analysis will be mid-May so we’ll be writing it throughout the semester. There are plenty of opportunities for students to jump in and get involved. We encourage people to tap in to our social and communication channels.

What was your favourite canoe you got to work on and why?
Stella: I’ve only worked on two canoes but I would say my favourite canoe would be the one we made last year, 704 Spadina. I was able to be a bit more involved in it as an exec member and leave my mark on it. It is a little bit tough because both canoes have a special place in my heart. Polaris, which was our 2018-19 canoe, was the first one I got to work on and the only Canoe I got to bring to competition. But with 704 Spadina, I got to take my experience from first year and make it my own.

Ashley: I also really enjoyed working on 704 Spadina. I feel like that canoe was an ode to everything our team has worked toward and will work on moving forward. Mostly because we overcame a lot of challenges that year. Last year we moved to two different work spaces. Our old space at 704 Spadina Ave. is being torn down to create a new residential building. It was a difficult process being in two different locations. We couldn’t mix concrete in one location so we had to transport concrete between the two. It was a five to seven-minute walk carrying really heavy concrete in order to cast the canoe. That was a huge challenge. We were in 704 Spadina Ave. for nine years so it holds a special place in our hearts.

704 Spadina Canoe

What makes it a successful year in Concrete Canoe aside from winning competition?
Stella: You don’t become a project manager without having specific goals in mind for the team. What makes a successful year of concrete canoe for me is after competition is done, no matter what happens, people want to come back for the next season. Keeping people around and making people say, ”Man this was a great year,” or “Man this was a tough year but let’s do it again!” You want people to be dedicated not to just the drive of winning but to finish the year and be able to have the retrospective of what could have been done differently. It shows people are passionate and that the passion hasn’t ebbed away over the year.

Ashely: For me, every year right before competition and during competition we say to our team, it doesn’t matter how we do in competition, it’s all about having fun and enjoying yourself with the team. Concrete isn’t the most technical design team at U of T engineering but it is one of the most fun and that's what gets people to come back.

Race Day 2019, Polaris Canoe.

What is the best way for students to stay up to date with Concrete Canoe ?
So what we’d recommend to people is to sign up for our mailing list, get involved and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Reach out and we’ll find a way to get people involved.