Purdue University Introduces NFPA Fluid Power Challenge to 4-H in Indiana

Fluid Power Challenge JudgingThe NFPA Fluid Power Challenge is continuing to expand, going beyond schools and into youth development programs. The inaugural 4-H Fluid Power Challenge provided Indiana 6-8th graders an opportunity to learn about hydraulics, fluid power, and other STEM skills.  Erika Bonnett, science extension specialist from the Purdue 4-H Youth Development Program, and Jose Garcia, assistant professor from the Purdue Polytechnic Institute joined efforts to bring NFPA’s Fluid Power Challenge to Indiana’s 4-H communities. The Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power sponsored the event. This event ultimately brought the Challenge into the public eye when two teams also selected to demonstrate their designs and share their experience at the Indiana Legislature Rural Caucus at the Indiana State Fair. This not only brought attention to the Fluid Power Challenge, but also brought 4-H, STEM education, and youth interest in fluid power in front of policymakers.

Like other Challenges, 4-H had a workshop day and a challenge day. On workshop day, nine teams from across Indiana came to Purdue’s campus for a day-long introduction to fluid power.  The students created a pre-designed lifting device and were accompanied by graduate and undergraduate students from the Purdue Polytechnic Institute to learn the basic skills they would use to create their challenge devices.  Teams continued to work on the design of the robotic manipulator at home and were asked to document the creation of their prototype with a design portfolio.

Five weeks later, the teams assembled back at Purdue University for the first 4-H Fluid Power Challenge Competition.  Teams were judged by industry professionals from Caterpillar, Wabash National, and professors from Purdue University and Universidad Tecnológica de Queretaro. The teams were judged and awarded points on various categories such as: portfolio, teamwork, design, challenge completion, and overall winner.  Each team designed a fluid power robot from a standard kit. The teams used syringes with either air or water to make their devices pick up and move an object.  This gave them each a chance to create a design, solve problems, work as a team, and learn about the engineering design process.

The partnership between the NFPA, the CCEFP, Purdue Polytechnic Institute, and the 4-H Youth Development Program gave a unique opportunity to reach youth throughout the state of Indiana in a non-formal education setting while encouraging an interest in STEM. And it is making a difference. In a survey of students involved, 96% reported that they liked to see how things are made or invented, 96% said they felt that they could explain why things happen in an experiment, 86% liked science, and 75% would like to have a job related to science.

Any questions about the NFPA Fluid Power Challenge and other fluid power education initiatives can be directed to Lynn Beyer, 414-778-3364 or lbeyer@nfpa.com.

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