Engineering Challenge Offers Career Exposure

Plains Engineering Challenge Offers Wide Appeal, Career Exposure
Posted on 05/20/2019
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students performing fluid power challengeAn aspiring marine biologist, science teacher, graphic designer and astrophysicist at Plains Junior School all found value in a recent group project that challenged them to solve an engineering problem using fluid power. Why?

“I can see now how much engineering is a part of lots of different jobs,” said eighth-grader Vanessa Iles.

“The best part has been designing it and seeing it come together,” said her teammate, Gavin Jones. “Everyone had a different vision and we just shared our ideas as we went.”

The science department at Plains partnered with a local manufacturer of fluid power technology, Hydrotech, to bring the National Fluid Power Action Challenge to the school this year. It’s a tradition the sponsor company hopes to expand to all four junior schools in the future.

Designed to introduce junior school students to fluid power careers and the real-world application of technology like hydraulics and pneumatics, the program challenges teams of four to design and build fluid power mechanisms that pick up an object from one platform and rotate before placing it on another. The final competition judges the team’s success in completing this task, but also a portfolio that helps capture their overall approach and teamwork.

The program kicked off with a workshop day in early March that the 20 students, hand-picked by their science teachers, attended at Hydrotech’s facility. Following a tour, they worked alongside professionals to familiarize themselves with the mechanics of fluid power and begin formulating their designs. Students had the option to meet during their daily “Research & Development” time to further fine tune their design before “Challenge Day,” where they actually built and tested their prototypes before facing off against their peers’ designs.

Besides the obvious skills the project promotes - teamwork, problem-solving and critical thinking, just to name a few - science teacher Heather Blaylock also noted the perseverance she witnessed in her students in spite of their failure.

“I’m really shocked at how many have evolved as leaders,” added Blaylock, who helped facilitate the project alongside Butler Tech teacher John Nicol. “I honestly didn’t know that some of them had it in them. Seeing the kids blossom has been really amazing.”

“These kids have done exactly what we do on a daily basis,” said Hydrotech’s Director of Engineering, Timothy Porta, noting how even their communication strategies simulated the challenges of any global company. “They found ways to communicate and collaborate effectively to come up with a great product.”