Fluid Power Challenge Gives New Perspective

fluid-power-challengeTeamwork. Problem-Solving. Creativity. These are words that best describe an exciting opportunity that local eighth grade students experienced this past Fall.

Joliet Junior College hosted the inaugural National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) Fluid Power Challenge for six area junior high schools. The Fluid Power Challenge, held in partnership with Caterpillar, Inc. and Industrial Hard Chrome, featured a skills based competition. Teams consisted of four students that were challenged to solve a real life engineering problem using fluid power (hydraulics and pneumatics).

The NFPA holds these events throughout the country, but this is the first event of its kind in the Joliet area. Phil McCluskey from Caterpillar, Inc. and member of the NFPA Board of Directors, was instrumental in bringing this event to the local community.

He explained that the Caterpillar Inc. facility in Joliet is actively involved in the local community and this event was an excellent outreach opportunity. McCluskey said, “This event is about raising awareness of what we do at Caterpillar and engaging the community.” He added, “Students will have an opportunity see something new and learn about real-world experiences that will enhance their classroom education.”

The Fluid Power Challenge was held on two days: a Workshop Day and Challenge Day. On Workshop Day, teams came together to learn about fluid power, build a pneumatic lifter and receive their challenge kits.

During the Workshop Day, which was held in mid-September, engineers from Caterpillar, Inc. and IHC explained where fluid power is used in the world around us as well as shared their personal experiences about how their careers evolved.

Mark Landers, senior design engineer at Caterpillar, Inc., explained how his decision to pursue an engineering career actually began at JJC. He said, “My very first experience at JJC helped to guide me to my current career. At the first meeting with my guidance counselor, I was unsure of what field I wanted to study and I really didn’t know what interested me at the time.”

He continued, “After discussing, we both decided that I was going to give engineering courses a try to see if I liked them, as that seemed to be the best fit. He added, “Looking back, it was the right choice as I am a degreed engineer and love to design and validate new products.” Landers received his Associate of Science and Arts degrees from JJC, then went on to graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Engineering.

Landers shared best online casino his passion for engineering with the students and also explained the objectives of this event. Landers said, “Hopefully the students learn about fluid power and how it can be useful to provide solutions.

The National Fluid Power Association challenge will also help them understand the design and validation processes, teamwork, time management, problem solving, reacting to design failure, and to be safe while working with building materials and tools. Hopefully some of them will become interested in a career in fluid power!”

At the conclusion of Workshop Day, teams took their kits which included tools and supplies back to their school (or home) to work on the challenge problem, develop a portfolio and build a prototype. Students returned to JJC on November 14 with their tools and plans to build their mechanisms as well as compete in a timed competition on Challenge Day. Groups were required to present their model in front of a panel of judges who awarded points based on a specific set of criteria.

Eric Lanke, chief executive officer of the NFPA, also attended Challenge Day and explained that even though teams were judged in a variety of areas, teamwork was a very important part of the challenge. He said, “The teams that are going to perform the best, in my opinion, are the ones that have the best teamwork. That’s really one of the critical pieces of the whole puzzle.” He continued, “Design, expertise and creativity are important but it’s using all the members of the team productively that really spells out the difference.”

Winners were selected in five categories: Best Portfolio, Minooka Jr. High (Team B); Teamwork, Manhattan Jr. High (Team A); Best Design, Foundations School; Best Machine Performance, Manhattan Jr. High (Team B); and Overall Champion, Crone Middle School (Team B).

This was a unique and exciting event for teachers and students alike. All of the attendees had very positive feedback about the event and explained how this experience would assist them with the learning process, particularly in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

Vicky Kehoe, a science teacher at Washington Junior High said, “This was the best way for them to learn because they’re actually doing – which is what science is. So rather than listen to a bunch of facts, they’re actually getting to problem-solve and go through the scientific method and the engineering design process.” Michael Ufkin, teacher at Chaney Monge, added,“Events like today remind me of the best part of teaching science…inspiring.” Students were able to learn in a hands-on environment and gain a better understanding about hydraulics and pneumatics.

By participating in the Fluid Power Challenge, many of the students learned something new and were able to walk away with an added perspective. Jason, an eighth grade student from Manhattan Junior High, said, “I realized how important teamwork skills are because without my team I definitely wouldn’t have succeeded.” Taylor, an eighth grade student from Minooka Junior High said, “Before this event I didn’t really have much experience with hydraulics  or pneumatics. My dad is a mechanic so I have some experience but I never really understood how it worked or why we need it.” Students were able to learn in a hands-on environment and gain a better understanding about hydraulics and pneumatics.

Lanke added, “The hope is to move these students in the direction of an engineering career. We’d love for them to continue towards the hydraulics and pneumatics industry but at this stage of the game, it’s more about nudging them towards the areas of science, technology and engineering when they go into high school and college.”

Amy Murphy, director of Corporate & Community Services at JJC said, “We were very excited about the opportunity to partner with these organizations to host the Fluid Power Challenge. We continually strive to build awareness about S.T.E.M. programs to our local schools in our community outreach efforts, so this event was a perfect fit. Murphy added, “It’s important to raise awareness at this age so students have an understanding about the various career paths that are available to them as they continue on with their educational endeavors.”

For more information about the Fluid Power Challenge, please visit www.nfpa.com

To view photos from the event, click here.

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