December 13, 2009

Champions! Mitchell students win MSOE Challenge

Holly Munch, Jason Bernhardt, Sam Kohlmann and Elizabeth Brau, l-r,
hold Overall Champion Trophy from National Fluid Power Challenge

Story and photos by Keith Kohlmann

Twelve eighth grade students from Mitchell Middle School's Technology Education class, "Gateway to Technology," competed in the National Fluid Power Challenge Championship at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). They were led by their Technology Education teacher, Keith Kohlmann and school counselor Kate Mascarette.

All Mitchell students in the "Gateway to Technology" classes built fluid power machines as part of "Project Lead the Way," a national standard for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education. The program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, prepares students for engineering careers.

Twelve students were chosen for the three Mitchell teams, each of which comprised two boys and two girls. They had four weeks to develop and build, during class, a working prototype of a four-function, three-axis hydraulic lifting machine. Their machines had to meet some very tight specifications.

A camera crew from Channel 10 has been following their progress for the last month as part of a documentary called, "Innovations in Education." It will be a reality show illustrating the excitement of science and technical education using real students. In November they filmed the Mitchell kids in action at MSOE and again in the classroom last Wednesday.

Each team had to submit a technical report on their machine as part of the overall point total. The 14-page reports were finished at 3:30 on Thursday. On Friday, Dec. 11, the Mitchell teams joined 14 teams from the Milwaukee area at MSOE for the competition. Starbuck Middle School also participated, sending four teams.

All teachers left the room for a tour of the MSOE fluid power engineering labs, and the students were then given three hours to build a second version of their hydraulic lifting machine, using only their tools, a box of materials and the technical report containing the plans they drew. As they worked, judges graded the groups on teamwork, cooperation, technical skills and answers to quiz questions.

The students worked non-stop, measuring, cutting wood, gluing parts and checking their work against their plans. They worked through lunch, with some teams placing the last components and trouble-shooting problems in the final seconds.

The teachers returned to watch the teams operate their machines in the Fluid Power Challenge. Points were scored for each object successfully picked up and moved with fluid power during a two-minute round. There were many tense moments; machines broke down, strategies failed. A month's worth of preparation led up to this final test.

Cory Trossen, Keeley Gwizdala, Shanya Haines, Garrett Sexton

Mitchell Team 3 went first, flaming out when they blew a hydraulic cylinder, scoring zero points.

Tom Vertz, Hallie Sensig, Tacoiya Anderson, Josh Ertl

Mitchell Team 2 scored early by placing a three point cylinder on the delivery shelf, but then lost all their points when they knocked it off trying for a second three-point score.

The teams from Racine Starbuck and Greenfield Bilingual Academy turned up the heat by repeatedly scoring points during their two-minute rounds. They were tied for first place with 8 points each.

Holly Munch, Elizabeth Brau, Jason Bernhardt, Sam Kohlmann
use hydraulic actuators to operate their fluid power machine.

Mitchell Team 1 drew the last round. A last-minute change in their communication plan got them off to a shaky start and they barely scratched together three points in the first minute. With time slipping away, they regrouped and scored six more points in less than 20 seconds, putting them in the lead with nine points.

While the students cleaned up, the judges totaled each team's points in the areas of design, structural stability, teamwork, technical knowledge, engineering portfolio and machine performance, deciding the winner in each category, as well as the overall champion.

Mitchell Team 2 (Tom Vertz, Hallie Senzig, Tacoiya Anderson and Josh Ertl) took home the "Best Engineering Portfolio" trophy.

Mitchell Team One (Elizabeth Brau, Holly Munch, Jason Bernhardt and Sam Kohlmann) received the "Overall Champion" First Place award by posting the highest point totals in all areas of the competition.

NFPA participants from Mitchell Middle School and their teachers are invited to attend the premiere of "Innovations in Education" in January at Discovery World in Milwaukee. The video is scheduled for nationwide distribution to educators and classrooms this spring.

The Fluid Power Challenge is a skills competition intended to expose students and teachers to engineering problem-solving using fluid power technology. Students then are encouraged to select high school courses in math, the sciences and technology that will lead to post-secondary studies and, eventually, careers in fluid power.

Industries in the Racine area have had a long history of invention and innovation in the fluid power industry. Local industry sponsors of the National Fluid Power Challenge include: Air-Logic, Bosch Rexroth, and Racine Federated, Inc.

Champions:Front, l-r: Elizabeth Brau, Keeley Gwizdala, Hallie Senzig,
Tacoiya Anderson, Shayna Haines, Holly Munch, Garrett Sexton,
Sam Kohlmann; back: Jason Bernhardt, Cory Trossen,
teacher Keith Kohlmann, Tom Vertz, Josh Ertl


  1. Congratulations to these kids! In a world in which the high school sports stars garner all of the attention, thank you for following their hard work.

  2. good job mitchell students where the tacos good

  3. Being able to participate in this challenge was the best thing I did all year. I'm so happy we won, and the other teams did awesome too. I would also like to thank the Fluid power companies in Racine that made it possible for us to experience this.

  4. It was a very fun expierience. Other schools should try it next year. Thanks for the congrats.

  5. concrats peoples was the food good

  6. i wish i was there were the nachos good

  7. Congratulations, kids! You look like you had a great time, and you made your parents proud.

    The Engineering Technology classes at Unified are the best kept secret in Racine County,east of I-94.

    My nephew earned 15 college credits taking Tech. Ed. classes at Park. At MSOE they automatically gave him (and everyone else who has those credits) a $4000.00 bonus scholarship.

    The auto mechanics kids won a 2009 Ford this year. They build cars in their shop that get 250 mpg, and they race them at Road America.

    Sports are essential, but let's make some room in the winner's circle for the kids who hold the promise for our future.

  8. Fantastic program and great kids.

  9. How exciting. Good work.

  10. Solid work ethic and education will serve this group well into the future. Congrats!

  11. did a great job