WISE Students' Cardboard Boats Race to Success

Three teams of WISE freshmen engineering students construct and race cardboard boats across the Westover Pond in 11th annual competition.

Ellie Bialik '22 (left) and Isabel Gittines '22 paddle the winning entry in the 11th Annual Cardboard Boat Race on Westover's Pond November 2. Their teammate Lily Moyn '22 helped with its design and construction.

WISE Students Paddle 3 Cardboard-&-Duct-Tape Boats Across Westover's Pond

"I thought we were going to sink the second we got into it," said one of the students in the Physical & Structural Engineering Class, speaking about one of the three boats she and her classmates constructed out of cardboard and duct tape. But the student's fears turned out to be unfounded.

On November 2, each of the three teams of students in turn lowered their boats into the School's pond for the School's 11th annual Cardboard Boat Race, then two members of each team got into their boats and paddled them across the pond and back, a distance of several hundred feet. The class is an introductory course in the School's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program.

After the three boats successfully completed their soggy route, Jana Dunbar, the Science Department Chair who teaches the class, gathered together her seven students – all freshmen – for a congratulatory group hug.

"For the first time ever," Jana said, "we didn't lose a boat. That was awesome, awesome, awesome!" Jana credited her students' success to the care with which each team came up with their designs and their subsequent construction. Looking over the three boats after their maiden voyages, Jana noted, "each of the boats are relatively dry" as evidence of their pond-worthiness.

The students' skills were also evident to many of the two dozen students, faculty, staff, and parents who watched the race from both shores of the pond. "These girls are getting better at building their boats," one onlooker noted with a laugh. "These boats are too good – no one's sinking."

For most of the student paddlers, in fact, the most challenging part of the race was figuring out how to power and steer their boat back and forth the pond. At one point, one student could be heard plaintively asking, "Can we stop?" as she and her teammate rounded the stick pointing out of the water that served as the halfway point of the course. While three of the students had some experience either paddling or sailing, Jana said, their classmates did not. Earlier in the week, all of the students were given a brief lesson in paddling a canoe to give them a little bit of experience in handling a paddle on the pond, though one student noted that all she and her teammate managed to do in practice was to go around and around in circles.

Kateryna Hrishina '22 (left) and Cindy Pino '22 make their way across Westover's Pond in the boat they designed and constructed out of cardboard and duct tape.

The winning team, Penguins, completed the course in two minutes and nine seconds. Ellie Bialik and Isabel Gittines paddled their boat, whose design included cardboard flippers and penguin feet. Lily Moyn was the third member of the team who helped design and construct the winning entry.

The second-place team, Rudolph, finished the course in two minutes and 26 seconds. It was designed, constructed, and paddled by Cindy Pino and Kateryna Hrishina.

The third-place entry, ST Frosty, was the first boat in the race's history to feature a catamaran design, with a flat surface built atop two triangular-pontoons – all made of cardboard. Tate Dunbar and Selana Kurutan completed the course in two minutes and 32 seconds.

Westover's WISE program was begun in 1992 in collaboration with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, to encourage girls to pursue engineering, science, and computer science. The program aims to attract girls to fields such as engineering and technology, which have been traditionally dominated by men.

Other WISE classes being offered this year include Robotics, Introduction to Computer Programming, Advanced Placement Computer Science, Video Game Development, Geology, and the Mechanics of Making and Playing Musical Instruments (a collaborative program with the School's Performing Arts Program). During their junior or senior year, WISE students are required to take part in an engineering design project or an independent research project to successfully graduate from the WISE program. More than 180 students have completed the WISE Program since its inception.

Tate Dunbar '22 (left) and Selana Kurutan '22 paddled their entry – the first one ever to feature a catamaran design – in the November 2 Cardboard Boat Race.