Engineering for intermediate school students

Author: Gene Stowe

Thirteen teams from 10 intermediate schools competed in the third annual Fluid Power Challenge on Dec. 7

For the third consecutive year, Notre Dame cosponsored the National Fluid Power Association Fluid Power Challenge for intermediate school students in the South Bend Community School Corp. The event was held Dec. 7 in Stepan Center.

Thirteen teams from 10 schools spent the morning building machines that they had designed and prototyped over six weeks as part of the program. Judges evaluated portfolios, including blueprints, drawings and discarded designs, and observed the students’ teamwork, safety and other skills.

The students build a lifter of wood and paper and operate it with compressed air from syringe pumps. Their machine’s success at the task of moving a wooden block was one-fifth of their score. The overall competition winner was the team from Clay Intermediate School.

Organizer Larry Davis, owner of Daman Products in Mishawaka and a member of the National Fluid Power Association, said the program is designed to introduce young people to real-world skills.

“It gives them an opportunity to experience three-dimensional stuff, mechanical engineering concepts and hydraulic concepts, in a fun environment,” he says. “They learn to manage their time. They learn utilization of resources. They learn they are more effective if they work together. They come out of here understanding how to build things in 3-D.

Thirteen teams from 10 intermediate schools competed in the third annual Fluid Power Challenge on Dec. 7

“They’re good at working two dimensions. When you add that third dimension, it’s news to them. They’re using different parts of their brain. They have to start with this pile of stuff and transform that into a machine that will do some kind of work. They find it stimulating. It’s project-based stuff, which is what we think education should be.”

Although the project involves engineering, the skills have a broad range of applications, Davis says.

“These guys will remember what they’ve done here when they’re 70,” he says. “They’ll take lessons from
what they’re doing here into life and refer back to this time. It’s the world of work—administration, military, manufacturing. It’s what we all want. We’re trying to move education along.

“We’ve always had a fascination with improving education by virtue of what we’re able to hire and the lack of ability and skill. We know it all starts with education and how kids are prepared. We’ve been hunting for ways to improve education that advance and move that bar. We’ve been a partner with Notre Dame for three years.”

Davis says the program operates in four other U.S. locations and is attracting more attention.

“Other people throughout the country are interested in promoting similar things,” he says. “What’s unique about our deal versus similar deals that go on is Notre Dame is really engaged and has volunteered mentors from their mechanical engineering program to come into the schools and help teachers. Notre Dame is looking for ways to reach out into the community and have an impact. This is an awesome connection for them.”