Hundreds of 8th Graders Participate in Fluid Power Challenges
The Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at the University of Minnesota, hosted four NFPA (National Fluid Power Association) fluid power challenges for over 375 8th graders. These outreach events were, in essence, very large pre-high-school engineering design competitions.
Competitions like these encourage young students to learn about fluid power technology and gain hands-on experience while building a fluid power mechanism with real-world applicability (see figure). Key outcomes are two-fold: (1) students are exposed at an early age to fluid power technology, encouraged to continue high school math and science courses, and potentially prepared to consider engineering as a college major and possible career field; and (2) teachers are given support and resources for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula.
The event comprises two days, which are separated by about a month. On the first day (Workshop Day), students receive an introduction to the basics of fluid power, hands-on experience by building kits that use fluid power, and an explanation of the challenge they must solve. Students return to their schools to work in teams to design and build their fluid-power devices, along with keeping a portfolio to document their work. Later, the students return for the second day (Challenge Day) to build their devices and compete against the other teams in a timed competition (see accompanying figure).
Goals of the Fluid Power Challenge are to: (1) actively engage students in learning fluid-power basics; (2) give support and resources to teachers for science and technology curricula; (3) create a fun learning environment for math and science; (4) encourage students to acquire a diversity of teamwork, communication, engineering, and problem-solving skills; (5) introduce eighth grade students to the fluid power industry; and (6) help build a strong workforce for tomorrow.
CCEFP’s hosting of competitions like these is designed to introduce both young students and their teachers to the world of engineering. In this case, fluid power is used as a way to demonstrate everyday engineering applications.
CCEFP education and outreach programs, informed by the ERC’s research, are in general aimed at enriching widespread understanding of fluid power technology and its applications; such programs also have the potential for leading some promising students to fluid power careers. In addition, programs like the NFPA Fluid Power Challenge support the broader purpose of raising STEM interests among a young and increasingly diverse student population.