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Student Leader Marissa Gelms

Marissa Gelms
Co-captain, Concrete Canoe Team
Senior, Bachelor’s Degree Program

How long have you been involved with the organization?
I’ve been involved in Concrete Canoe since fall of my Sophomore year (Oct 2014). I started as a general member, became a co-lead for structural analysis my junior year, and have my current positions this year as a senior.

What do you enjoy most about being in a leadership position?
The thing I enjoy the most about being in a leadership position is helping create a team and a community. Being able to inspire the members on the team to constantly discover and solve problems. It’s not about how the canoe turns out or how well you do at competition, although it’s always a plus if you do well, it’s about how we get there.

How many hours a week do you spend working with the organization?
It is hard to put an exact number on the hours per week I spend working with canoe because there is always a lead or member that could need help or a problem that can be solved. But it is probably too much time to admit. School and canoe go side by side, if I’m not doing one I’m probably working on the other.

What are your goals for the organization for this academic year?
An overarching goal for our team this year is to place top 10 at the National Competition. Some goals to reach this include improving last year’s post-tensioning system, which was the first time we had ever done this and creating a sleeker, better design. In general our goal is to have a cohesive team that works together to create a successful final product. We also want to help make next year’s team even better than this year’s so that involves knowledge transfer, communication, and creating those connections with the underclassmen.

Can you briefly describe what the group/organization does?
Very general, the organization designs, builds, and races a canoe made out of concrete. More specifically, we receive rules for the competition in September and then spend fall quarter designing the canoe this involves the hull shape, our concrete mix, and the structural analysis. Winter quarter is when we actually build the canoe, sand, and finish it. Spring quarter is when we compete against other schools in the region and if we place first at regionals we head to nationals.

How many members are there?
There are around 200 members on our mailing list, but there are roughly 40-50 members who consistently show up to general meetings and are involved in our workshops.

What is your favorite part of being part of the organization?
My favorite part about Concrete Canoe is the family and community you make. The club helps make the department and college just a little bit smaller. And of course actually making a canoe out of concrete. This organization is like nothing else. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. When else are you going to have the chance to do something like this, the answer is you aren’t. It is an interesting, absurd, out of the box engineering application. It can be frustrating and it may take a lot of long nights, but in the end it is just a fun team project that lets you apply your engineering education and allows you to make friendships that will last forever.

Has the organization overcome any challenges?
Yes, the team is always overcoming challenges. We face challenges every day. Some challenges are easy and some not so much. Every year brings a new canoe, a new team, and with it new challenges. A current challenge the team is facing is with the construction and usability of the mold we use to make our canoe. The company who is helping us make the mold has had trouble making it to our plans so the team is figuring out how we can work with the current design or adjust it to fit our needs.

 What area of civil & environmental engineering most interests you?
The area of civil & environmental engineering that is of most interest to me is structural engineering.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I plan to attend graduate school to get my master’s degree. With which I hope to either work on seismic retrofits or design high-rise buildings.

Any additional relevant details?
The past 4 years the team has placed first at the regional competition and attended the National Competition. In June 2015, the canoe Ska’ana went to Nationals in Clemson, SC and placed 9th overall taking 10th in final product, 6th in presentation, and 5th in design paper. In June 2016, the canoe Edgewater went to nationals in Tyler, TX and placed 10th overall taking 6th in final product and 7th in design paper. Edgewater was only the 5th canoe in University of Washington history to place top 10 at nationals. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be a part of both teams.