ConCreate Design Club’s video draws national notice

Published 04.13.2021

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A Pennsylvania College of Technology student organization’s video about a viable do-it-yourself alternative to traditional concrete – with humor among its key ingredients – was a Top 20 finisher in a recent competition sponsored by an industry trade group.

Three members of the college’s ConCreate Design Club, a student chapter of the American Concrete Institute, produced and co-starred in the seven-minute video, which was entered in ACI’s Concrete Solutions Competition. Participating were Madison L. Kistler, of Kutztown, club president; vice president Harrison Wohlfarth, of Midlothian, Virginia; and Noah W. Shafer, of Towanda, a member of the club’s board of directors.

ConCreate Design Club members (from left) Kistler, Shafer and Wohlfarth prepare their competition entry in a Pennsylvania College of Technology lab.Kistler and Wohlfarth are each pursuing an associate degree in concrete science technology and a bachelor’s in applied technology studies; Shafer is a civil engineering technology major. Additionally, Kistler will graduate next month with a two-year degree in surveying technology, and Wohlfarth earned an associate’s in building construction technology in 2020.

The video, developed during a virtual brainstorming session among members and Joseph F. DiBucci, alumnus and club founder, acquaints viewers with “papercrete,” which uses junk mail and other repulped paper in place of the aggregate.

“This is a great way to get people at home involved … who don’t know much about concrete besides sidewalks and warehouse floors and just the typical day-to-day,” Wohlfarth said. “People don’t know that it’s so much more than that. It’s a perfect material for DIY projects, ’cause most of the mix is something that you find within your house – not to mention that you’re recycling it. It’s green and it’s great!”

Kistler – termed by her colleagues as “the star” for volunteering to get inside a trash can in the video’s opening scene – said the project took about a week of preparation (including testing their “papercrete” mixes) and another week or so of filming, sharing one another’s video footage and editing.

Students were judged on a number of criteria, including the creativity and clarity of their presentation, engagement of their entire team, and the potential impact of their solution on society.

“It was kind of humbling to us that people were so accepting of our work,” Wohlfarth said. “I think one thing they may have appreciated is that we feel like we stood out, and other people may have seen that. Because we were really showing the hands-on aspect of actually doing the experiments.

“And we had fun; I think people like seeing that.”

Paper pulp and water are blended into a semiliquid that will be combined with sand and portland cement for the final "papercrete" mix.Along with having their work chosen among the Top 20 videos in the competition, the Penn College team members were interviewed virtually by industry judges. The club had used the material decoratively, fashioning it into jewelry, but Wohlfarth said the panel was interested in its potential for commercial use – particularly as flowable fill.

“That’s a type of concrete that’s superweak, that you can easily dig back up,” he said, such as when low-strength backfill is needed to anchor an underground pipeline. “Papercrete would be great for that!”

“It also has that ‘Wow!’ factor to it,” Shafer added. “It’s something no one ever really heard of before. I remember I told my dad about it and he said, ‘That doesn’t sound like what concrete is supposed to be at all!’ It’s concrete, but it’s a totally different side to it.”

The club, advised by building construction technology instructor Franklin H. Reber Jr., was named the college’s Outstanding Student Organization of the Year in 2020 – not long after it was formed as an offshoot of the college’s two-year concrete science technology major and shortly before it became an ACI student chapter.

Among its activities are jewelry workshops for students and employees, as well as creating items to sell at the Student Government Association’s annual Silent Auction to benefit a scholarship fund for campus leaders.

For more information about concrete science or other majors in Penn College’s School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

Photos provided