New Faces in Academic Fluid Power – James Van de Ven

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO


By Eric Lanke

500_PERCENT[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’ve written before about the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP)—the network of fluid power research laboratories, academic faculty, graduate and undergraduate students at seven universities—that is making a difference when it comes to preparing a better educated workforce for the fluid power industry. The CCEFP has created a 500% increase in the number of fluid power focused advanced degrees awarded in the United States, with almost half of its graduates going on to work in the fluid power industry. Some CCEFP graduates decide to stay in academia—and that’s a good thing, because they bring an interest and focus on fluid power to new institutions around the United States and around the world.

James Van de Ven is one of those graduates, a former postdoctoral student at the University of Minnesota, and now a faculty member at the same university. When I asked Jim about his experiences in the CCEFP, what they meant for his academic career, and how he is helping to grow fluid power among university students, he said:

James Van de Ven“I was a post-doc for Perry Li and Kim Stelson at the University of Minnesota during the first year of the CCEFP. In this role, I led the hydraulic hybrid testbed project and contributed to the open accumulator and high-speed rotary valve projects. These experiences established my research foundation in fluid power, gave me experience in mentoring graduate and undergraduate students, and started my network in the fluid power community. This experience allowed me to identify where my skill set met the needs of a research and industry community and develop my own research direction.


“Immediately after my one year post-doc, I accepted a faculty position at WPI in Worcester, MA, where I started the Mechanical Energy and Power Systems (MEPS) Lab. The research focus of my lab was on applying machine design to energy storage and energy conversion, primarily in the area of fluid power. At WPI, my research group grew to six graduate students and approximately 12 undergraduate students working on fluid power related projects (including some capstone design projects sponsored by NFPA).


“In 2011, a faculty position opened at the University of Minnesota that was a good fit for my research interests. The move was a great fit professionally and personally. Rejoining the CCEFP resulted in many more face-to-face conversations with other researchers with aligned research visions, creating a fertile research environment.


“At UMN I have been strongly involved in educating engineering students in fluid power. I have been maintaining six to eight graduate students and a number of undergraduate students working in my lab. I have also been teaching the Fluid Power Controls Lab course. Finally, Will Durfee and I co-taught the Fundamentals of Fluid Power Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered on Coursera. This six week course had over 8,000 students from all over the world.”

Jim is just one of the many new faces in academic fluid power who is helping to bring hydraulics and pneumatics to a new generation of students.

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