Minnesota students get hands-on experience with engineering

Middle school students competed in an engineering competition at the University on Thursday.

by Raghav Mehta

Equipped with glue guns, goggles and hand saws, middle-school students from across the state gathered at the University of Minnesota on Thursday morning for a hands-on introduction to the world of mechanical engineering. More than 60 students divided into 20 teams were given three and a half hours to construct wooden crane models powered by hydraulics (water) and pneumatics (air) âÄî two types of fluid power technology âÄî using hoses and syringes. The National Fluid Power Competition is a youth education outreach program funded by the National Fluid Power Association and hosted by the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Efficient Fluid Power Research Center. âÄúThereâÄôs a big push to promote science, engineering and mathematicsâÄù said Alyssa Burger, education outreach director for the center. University graduate student and competition organizer Stephen Sedler said itâÄôs a good introduction for students to apply concepts theyâÄôd otherwise only learn about in the classroom. As teams worked diligently together, a panel of judges that included professional engineers observed and evaluated each teamâÄôs progress. Paul Fiecke, an engineer and event judge, said the criteria for evaluation was based on the teams ability to work together, their decision-making process and ability to brainstorm ideas for designs. Students had to build a crane that could move wooden cylinders onto a three-step platform. Students received more points the further they were able to move the cylinders with their machines. Fiecke believes the fluid power program has the potential to spark interest in the engineering field for a younger demographic and also educate the youth about the applications of fluid power. Highland Park Junior High student Nora Martin said she joined the program because it was something new and although the competition didnâÄôt inspire her to pursue a career in engineering. The NFPA started holding competitions two years ago and this yearâÄôs is the first to be held in Minnesota. The first competition took place in Milwaukee with four teams participating. By the following year, the number of participants skyrocketed with twenty teams signing up to compete. Burger said âÄútheyâÄôre driving interests in [engineering], and I think thatâÄôs what the ultimate goal is.âÄù