Auburn University hosts inaugural ASCE Gulf Coast Student Symposium, places first overall

Published: Apr 7, 2022 10:00 AM

By Virginia Speirs

For the first time in more than a decade, the Auburn University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering hosted the annual three-day Student Symposium for the American Society of Civil Engineers. The event took place from March 31st to April 2nd.

Thirteen schools and more than 300 students from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi participated in the inaugural Gulf Coast Student Symposium in the newly realigned conference. 

The symposium’s theme was “Back on Track,” a nod to the National Center for Asphalt Technology’s world-renowned 1.7-mile asphalt test track, as well as a statement of purpose — reviving in-person professional development and extracurricular opportunities after two years of unprecedented challenges.

Students across the region formed multidisciplinary teams to compete in nineteen civil and environmental engineering-themed competitions, including the well-known steel bridge competition and concrete canoe race.

Auburn’s team ultimately placed in 16 different competitions, enough to place first overall and advance to national level competitions for Innovation, Construction, and Timber-Strong Design Build competitions.

The competitions were hosted in various locations across Auburn, including Chewacla State Park, the Brown-Kopel Engineering Student Achievement Center and Auburn’s new Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory.

One major component factoring into scoring was sustainability of the construction materials used for each project.

“We tried to think of that with the materials that went into our mix design, just trying to be environmentally conscious,” said Megan Potuzak, a captain on Auburn’s concrete canoe team. “If we didn’t have that, we’d get fewer points toward our final score.”

In traditional ASCE fashion, concrete canoes were themed and named after their school spirit. The University of South Alabama docked “Mighty A,” Louisiana State University had “Cypress Cat,” “Voodoo Canoe” rowed under the banner of the University of New Orleans and “Tigerdega Nights” represented Auburn University.

For Auburn, the canoe-building process began months ago.

“We usually start back in November so we can be ready by the symposium,” said Auburn ASCE president Daniel Soto, a senior in civil and environmental engineering. Soto said he was confident that the amount of hard work the team put into that particular competition — lots of trial and error, plus plenty of rowing practice — would put Auburn in a good position to place.

“It was an amazing team effort led by our committee of graduate students that allowed us to have a successful and enjoyable symposium” said assistant civil and environmental professor Michael Perez, who serves as faculty advisor for Auburn’s ASCE student chapter. “It was challenging because this was the first in-person symposium in two years, so only a handful of students had ever attended a student symposium. Most were completely new to the competitions.” 

More than 100 professionals from academia, public agencies and the private sector volunteered at the event; Melissa Herkt, '77 civil engineering, one of the world's foremost authorities on project management, was keynote speaker for the awards banquet that capped the competitions. 

“This was a great opportunity to reconnect with civil and environmental engineering alumni and showcase our state-of-the art facilities as well as showcase and recruit potential graduate students,” said Veronica Ramirez, a transportation engineer with the Alabama Transportation Assistance Program, who served on the symposium’s planning committee. 

Megan Foshee, a civil and environmental graduate research assistant who also helped planned the symposium, agreed.

“This student symposium was an amazing experience,” Foshee said. “I’m proud that students from all over the Gulf Coast Conference were able to marvel at all of the fascinating research opportunities that Auburn Engineering has to offer. I believe that we have set the bar high for the hosts next year and the years to come.”

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson,, 334-844-3591

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