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Two teams race across Cedar Lake during the 2020 contest.

Paddle, Float, but Don't Sink! Cardboard Canoes Hit the Water

by Public Relations Staff

All female team paddles close to shore on Cedar Lake during the 2020 raceFreshmen engineering students and students from various academic departments at Cedarville University, floated, paddled, and otherwise made their way across Cedar Lake, as part of the 28th annual cardboard canoe boat race held today, October 1 beginning at 3 p.m.

The cardboard canoe race is one of the signature events of Cedarville’s Homecoming and Parents Weekend. Each team consists of four students, two of whom must paddle from one end of the lake to the other without sinking.

Student teams construct their canoes out of cardboard and tape. This activity is a class assignment for the engineering students, where their grade is based on their success — or lack thereof — in moving across the lake.

The canoe race originated from an idea presented by Dr. Larry Zavodney, senior professor of mechanical engineering, and former electrical engineering professor Dr. Sam SanGregory. They received cardboard from a local mill and worked together to create a boat that could float in a pool. After being certain the cardboard and tape were capable of creating a viable boat, the professors decided to make it an assignment for engineering students.

“The canoe race is very important to Cedarville’s engineering program,” said Dr. Robert Chasnov, dean of the school of engineering and computer science. “In the past, many large engineering schools did not focus on the hands-on projects for undergraduate engineering students. We wanted to define a clear distinction between our program and those at other institutions. As a result, the cardboard canoe race competition was developed.”

Freshmen engineering majors are taught how to use a particular software that helps them determine how much water a boat will displace given the weight of two people. This software, as well as the experience of an upperclassman advisor, gives students a head start on success.

“My favorite part of the boat races is actually seeing a well-made boat quickly come across the lake,” said Chasnov. “Freshmen are given enough advice to make a boat that doesn’t sink, but it’s the boatmanship of students that sets the teams apart.”

The cardboard canoe races are the first opportunity for freshmen to work as part of a team. This allows them to develop teamwork skills that will be an important part of their job in the future, noted Chasnov. The second lesson for freshmen is learning in a practical way that the laws of physics really do work.

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,715 undergraduate, graduate, and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, including its Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and high student engagement ranking. For more information about the University, visit  

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