2006 Distinguished Lecture Series: Candace S. Sulzbach

Concrete Canoe – will it float?

Candace SulzbachCandace Sulzbach is a lecturer in the Division of Engineering where she has taught since August 1983. She is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Colorado.

Candy earned her B.S. degree in Mineral Engineering (civil specialty) at Mines, graduating in 1981. She worked as a project engineer for Exxon Co., USA at their Benicia, California refinery until 1983 when she returned to Mines as an Instructor in the Basic Engineering Department (now the Division of Engineering). In the early years of teaching at Mines, Candy taught Drafting and Statics. Having struggled with statics as a student, this has always been a favorite class to teach! She has also taught Construction Site Management, Mechanics of Materials, Design of Steel Structures, Design of Reinforced Concrete Structures, Field Session – land surveying, and Surveying II.

While at Mines, Candy has served on the McBride Honors Tutorial Committee and was a co-instructor for the seminar on Foreign Area Study (Chile) in 2003. She is also a member of the Affiliated Faculty of the Center for Engineering Education on campus and has served on various campus-wide committees.

Candy is serving as a Metro Area Director on the Mines Alumni Board of Directors and was honored to receive the CSMAA Honorary Membership award in May 2003. This award is given based on a nomination by an alumnus and is given to those “who have rendered distinguished service to the Association and/or the School of Mines.” She has also been honored several times as recipient of the “Outstanding Faculty Member-Civil Engineering” award given by graduating seniors at the CSMAA Senior Banquet during the week of Commencement.

After 24 years of teaching engineering students, Candy has had the opportunity to see how their educations can be enhanced by their involvement in extra-curricular activities. Candy is currently serving as the Faculty Advisor of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student organizations. The Colorado School of Mines’ SWE section was awarded the distinction of 2nd place as “Outstanding Collegiate Section” for the academic year of 05-06.

ASCE is an active student chapter and has received the “Certificate of Commendation” award for several years. The student members have participated in the concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions since 1995. Candy has been the faculty advisor for 13 years and has received the award of “Outstanding Faculty Advisor – Zone III” four times. While under her guidance, the Mines’ ASCE student chapter hosted the National Concrete Canoe Competition in 2000 and the National Student Steel Bridge Competition in 2004.

Currently, Candy is serving as Secretary of the ASCE Committee on Student Activities, which is a national committee charged with overseeing all student chapter activities. As part of her duties on this committee, she served as their representative to the Committee on National Concrete Canoe Competition from 2002-2006.

Candy is a member of SWE, ASCE, ASEE, Tau Beta Pi and an honorary member of Blue Key. Her family includes her husband Jim and two children, Rob and Eryn Ammerman. Her dad, Tom Brown, graduated from Mines in 1958 and looks forward to receiving his 50 year diploma next year.


Concrete Canoe – will it float? With the correct mix of cement, water, aggregate, and admixtures in addition to “Stamina, Teamwork, Strength, Imagination and Commitment,” yes, it will!

The use of concrete to make a canoe is an unusual application of a common building material. In the 1970’s when some civil engineering college students decided to build a canoe using reinforced concrete, concrete boats were not an entirely new idea. In 1848, Joseph Louis Labot of France built the first concrete dingy. The first ocean-going concrete ship was an 84-foot long boat constructed in Norway and launched in 1917. Concrete boats were built during WWII and yachts are still being manufactured from concrete in several countries. American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) student chapters have been building and racing concrete canoes in regional competitions since the early 1970’s. The first national competition was held in 1988 at Michigan State University where 18 teams competed to be national champion.

Because reinforced concrete is an unlikely material from which to construct a canoe, it forces innovation and creativity in the engineering design phase. Every year students strive to formulate concrete mixtures that are both strong and workable enough to apply to a hull form that will result in a more efficient, faster, more maneuverable and aesthetic concrete canoe. The design/build process required to create a competitive concrete canoe provides civil engineering students with an opportunity to gain hands-on practical experience and leadership skills that will enhance their engineering education. They learn the importance of effective project management and teamwork, including communication, organization, quality and cost control and safety. The technical challenges of the project are quite similar to those encountered in a high-quality undergraduate research project.

Students who participate on a concrete canoe team gain valuable skills that they would not necessarily learn in a standard engineering undergraduate curriculum. The concrete canoe competition is a program that allows civil engineering students to work on a project from start to finish. It is an excellent design/build project requiring an engineering design based on rigorous specifications. Classes, even Senior Design classes, are usually limited as the final product is often conceptual, at most.

Since 1988, up to 250 schools design and build concrete canoes and compete at the regional level every year, hoping to advance to the national competition. If each team has 15 members, this represents 3,750 students who participate on a yearly basis, or 71,250 students since 1988. Building a competitive concrete canoe enhances a civil engineering student’s educational experience and produces an atmosphere of school pride among the hard-working, and competitive group of students.

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