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Yes We CAN: Roadrunners Win Bergen County Canstruction Competition

What can you do with 2,860 cans of food? Well, you can stock the food pantry on campus. But before that, you can build a sculpture. A winning sculpture.

And that is what Ramapo College students did overnight on February 29 for the Bergen County Office of Food Security Canstruction contest. At the American Dream Mall, a team comprising physics engineering club students and classmates built a sculpture that existed only on paper for months before then.

It all began on a spring day in April of 2023 when Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Zur visited the food pantry on campus. She learned about the increase in food insecurities students face and the potential for the We Care Program to support more students if additional resources were available. Zur mentioned the contest, and Dylan Heffernan, assistant director of the We Care Program and Civic Engagement, seized the opportunity. Contacting the Engineering Physics Club seemed like a good first step, and the students answered the call enthusiastically, with a few students tapping the shoulders of fellow Roadrunners to participate. “After seeing pictures online of the Canstruction sculptures, we were really excited to participate,” said Suraj Neupane ’24. “I think secretly we are all LEGO® kids at heart, so this felt like an amazing opportunity to use those skills.”

Rendering of “Overcoming Food Waste”

Christopher Barbieri ’25 (data science), Bibhu Bhatta ’26 (computer science), Jenna Vesey ’24 (bioinformatics), Emily Markuske ’26 (engineering physics), Suraj Neupane ’24 (engineering physics), Matthew Schroeder ’24 (communication arts), Prashant Shah ’26 (computer science), and Agrim Gupta ’24 (engineering physics) considered what to highlight with their design, which was created “to highlight food insecurity and waste in Bergen County,” said Barbieri. The title of the sculpture is “Overcoming Food Waste” and makes a statement about how people go without and struggle to find nourishment while food is discarded. The sculpture depicts a person sitting on the ground in front of an oversized canister on its side with food pouring out of it.

The team entered their design into the contest during the Fall 2023 semester and learned in December it was selected as a finalist for the competition. Soon after being notified, they were partnered with their sponsor, Goya Foods, whose headquarters are in New Jersey. Goya Foods generously donated all of the food items needed for the build…a grand total of 2,860 items that would later be added to the on-campus food pantry. The team was also very thoughtful and deliberate when determining what items to use to construct the sculpture. “They considered the needs of our food pantry when selecting items for the build so that we would be able to increase the diversity of our food offerings,” said Heffernan.

During the two evenings before the contest kicked off, the team had time to work with the donated food items to develop some construction techniques and get a good understanding of how they were going to complete the build overnight. “We did make some adjustments [during the build] since some of the cans received differed from what we expected,” said Barbieri. About halfway through the competition, the team gave themselves the added challenge of constructing a street lamp, which was not part of the original design.

The team begins assembling the legs of the person in the sculpture.

The contest took place overnight in the American Dream Mall after it closed. Only five team members were allowed to build the sculpture at any time. Team members alternated throughout the night from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. when the contest ended. Each team had its own area in which to construct their sculptures.

Heffernan stayed the entire night supporting the team, which was a highlight for Neupane, who said, “Getting to stay up the entire night with Dylan and the team was entertaining!” A highlight for Heffernan was watching how courteous the team was to their competitors. “At one point, the team noticed that team had items that did not fit into their design. Our Roadrunners offered cans from their supply to help the other team make their design come to life,” he said. Roadrunners embody the spirit of being kind and good teammates.

Dylan Heffernan (left), and members of the team stand proudly with the finished sculpture.

Once the contest ended, the judging began. The Bergen County Office of Food Security posted photos of each team’s sculpture to commence the “Fan Favorite” portion of the competition. Social media users were asked to view the BCOFS’s Instagram story and select their favorite sculpture display. The other portion of the contest was judged by a panel featuring members from various Bergen County organizations who utilized a rubric to assess the sculptures.

One week later, the team returned to the American Dream Mall to see if they won. They should have brought a broom since they swept with a win in both categories. The team knew they would be able to deconstruct their sculpture and bring the food items back to campus to stock the food pantry; they did not realize there were also trophies. “We thought we were just raising awareness for the Bergen County Office of Food Security,” said Neupane. “We are really flattered that both the judges and the community liked our creation and took the time to vote for us.” Barbieri echoed the sentiment of his teammate and added, “The other teams had great designs as well. It was nice to take home the trophies.”

The Ramapo College team showing off hardware with Commissioner Tracy Zur and BCOFS and American Dream Mall personnel.

The We Care Program at Ramapo College continues to expand its offerings to the campus community. In 2023 alone, grants exceeding $192,000 were awarded, including a first-ever Bergen County grant for $25,000. The funds helped secure the resources needed to add fresh food options for students such as additional refrigeration and bins for transporting food to satellite pantries throughout campus.

The Engineering Physics Club is open to all students at Ramapo College, not just students in that major. “I am a data science major and a member,” said Barbieri. “It’s a small community so you get to know one another.” The club promotes engagement in the physical sciences and promote professional opportunities that include academic research and internships. “We have hosted talks from visiting professors and alumni, organized friendly science competitions,” said Neupane. “We are even planning a field trip and private tour of a hydroelectric power plant.” Students interested in joining should send an email to