Fluid Power Challenge Engages Student Creativity and Leadership

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO


by Eric Lanke

Lynn Beyer has already written about how successful the first-ever Fluid Power Challenge program at Joliet Junior College (JJC) was. But I thought I would share some of my own experiences there, since I attended the event in person. By the way, thanks to NFPA members Caterpillar and Industrial Hard Chrome for sponsoring this event.

Fluid Power Challenges are fluid power design/build competitions for middle school students. They introduce students to our industry, and engage them in a task where they learn about fluid power, engineering and teamwork. Like many of the Fluid Power Challenge events that I’ve attended, some the strongest supporters of what we’re doing we’re the teachers that brought their students to JJC. Looking through the evaluations that we ask each of them to complete, I saw numerous comments about how much our program was able to engage with the interests and creativity of the students. My favorite comments were the ones that talked about how special the students felt about being able to participate in our out-of-the-classroom event, and how students who are usually more reserved in the classroom demonstrated real leadership skills as part of the Fluid Power Challenge.

This enthusiasm was certainly evident at JJC. At the end of the day, they asked me to say a few words to the assembled students. When I asked the crowd if they had had fun, I got loud cheers in return. I told them that what they had engaged in was a difficult task, and that they all had done incredibly well. Like every Challenge I have attended, I saw teamwork, perseverance, creativity, and positive attitudes—just the kind of things employers were looking for in the real world.

Several parents had also attended the event. At least one made a point of coming up to me afterwards to tell me how much the program had meant to their child. For the first time, I was told, the student in question was excited about going to school. I didn’t tell the parent this, but that was not the first time I had heard that comment from a parent. Indeed, I hear something like that at just about every Challenge I attend.

“Hey! There’s the naf-pa guy.”

When I was leaving JJC, I saw a group of students getting into a minivan with their parents. They were trying to get the trophy they had won in through the side door without clopping it against the van roof. Suddenly, one the kids spotted me, pointed, and said, “Hey! There’s the naf-pa guy,” pronouncing NFPA as if it was a word, and not a series of letters. His excitement was infectious.

I think that’s what I like best about attending Fluid Power Challenge events. Teachers, parents and students—and myself—we all come away with a sense of excitement and accomplishment. The fact that we’re making good on one of our strategic outcomes—helping young people understand fluid power’s potential as a technology and as a career path—is almost secondary.

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