Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review

When Jordan Bridges was 8 years old, he was hooked on Legos. He would play with them for hours at a time, building elaborate structures and modeling them to perfection. There was something about the endless possibilities of his creations that kept him building.

Fast forward 16 years and Bridges is a plastics engineering technology major now studying the near endless possibilities of plastic composites, specifically with submarines.

He is part of Western’s Human-Powered Submarine Team, a student-run project formed within the plastics engineering technology program. Once every two years, team members create submarines and compete with other universities across the country. Since 2006, the team has competed in various competitions in the United States.

Most recently, the team has been putting the finishing touches on their latest sub, a 14-foot craft which they hope to enter in the International Submarine Races in Maryland this summer.

For fundraising efforts, the team is hosting a Cardboard Boat Race on Sunday, May 15 at 1 p.m. as part of the Back2Bellingham Alumni and Family Weekend. The race will take place at the Lakewood facility at Lake Whatcom, where teams will race their homemade boats along a designated course.

Bridges said that boats must be made of cardboard, and they also must be human-powered. Students can participate individually or in groups. Participation is free, and audience members can make a tax-deductible donation to the submarine team through the Western Foundation.

Junior Frances Scharnhorst said that beyond fundraising, she hopes this event will be an icebreaker for students to get a feel for what the engineering program is about. She said several of her friends have been interested in the event but are hesitant due to their lack of engineering experience.

“For me, the really big thing is to get people to understand that engineering isn’t that hard. You’ll learn the skills you need to learn. I think this competition can break the ice about stuff like that,” she said.

Scharnhorst said the boat race is the perfect reflection of what she loves about engineering, being hands-on and outside of the confinement of textbooks.

“I think it’s being able to learn something in class, go into a lab and actually put it to use and see how it really does work,” she said. “It’s really the same with any science class, but with engineering you get to take it one step further. You get to see how it works and apply it to something real.”

Bridges said he hopes the accessibility of cardboard will get people interested, especially those who are looking for a light-hearted event to bring out their inner child.

“The heart of this competition is to encourage other people who don’t have experience to jump in and try to make something that’s doomed to failure,” he said. “Everybody is doomed to failure in this competition: it’s cardboard, it’s water, they don’t mix.”

Senior Kevin Ng first heard about the submarine team during fall quarter and decided to join to get more involved in his department.

“I enjoy being on the team because I get to meet more people and learn how to do all kinds of things like making molds, putting on a gel coat or assembling a drive train,” he said.

He said the race is a great opportunity for the team to raise money for travel expenses and additional parts for their sub. And by entering back into competition, Ng said the department will be given much more notoriety.

“This competition would be a great experience for our team and help put Western’s plastics department on a national level,” he said.

The registration date for anyone interested in the boat race is Thursday, May 12. To sign up, send your name, the number of people on your team, whether you want to compete in the single or multi-person category and your email address to