Challenge connects students, local companies

Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Heritage Hills senior Luke Rahman, left, senior Nathan Hassfurther and junior twins Gabe and Grant Gogel work together on the Farbest Foods challenge during the first ever Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing Challenge in the Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing Building at Vincennes University in Jasper on Thursday. This timed challenge simulated the entire production process at Farbest Foods. 


JASPER — Today is National Manufacturing Day, and Vincennes University Jasper Campus celebrated with a challenge.

The Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing hosted 144 high school students from around the area Thursday for the first Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing Challenge. Although the event came the day before the official manufacturing day, it exemplified the point of the designation — showcasing modern manufacturing careers, and inspiring students to pursue those careers.

The challenge is the brain child of CTIM Director Jacob Berg, who took over leadership of the center this year. He wanted to transform the usual manufacturing day activities VUJC offered into a fully hands-on, engaging event that would give students the chance to exercise manufacturing skills and learn about local opportunities. To do that, he asked participating companies to come up with a challenge fit for a team of six high school students, and eight companies answered his call. Throughout the day, 24 teams from nine area schools cycled through the eight challenges in a competition for cash prizes, funded through the entrance fees companies paid to participate. The result was a hands-one experience that left students excited.

“This brings out a lot more than when you’re just sitting in a presentation,” said Evan Steinmetz, a junior at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School.

The challenges tested students’ skills in a variety of ways. Kimball Electronics, for example, involved building simple circuits, while Kimball International challenged the students to 3-D print a chair. Farbest Foods set up a challenge that simulated their entire operation, all the way from caring for the turkeys to shipping the meat to the customer.

Steinmetz thought his team did best with Farbest’s challenge. It involved building a cardboard feed conveyor that would carry turkey feed from a cardboard feed mill into a toy dump truck that then had to be rolled down the table and emptied into a “turkey farm,” complete with stress ball-sized toy turkeys. At the farm, the students had to wire a small fan that would cool the turkeys. After that, the turkeys were loaded into the truck and taken to a box marked “plant” where they were processed. The challenge ended with ensuring only 3.52 pounds of product showed on the scale, and loading the boxes into the truck to be taken to a customer.

“I look for a delegation and teamwork,” said Scott Maddox, the production supervisor at Farbest’s Huntingburg plant. “How do they work together, and do they work to their strengths?”

Every challenge was designed to get the students thinking outside the box and using problem solving. Southridge High School senior Audra Hochgesang said she thought the challenges taught her team to think more creatively.

“There were just a lot of solutions we would’ve thought of if we just thought more creatively,” she said.

Jasper High School industrial tech teacher Joshua Dahmer liked that the challenges showed students the entire manufacturing process. A lot of his students are hands-on, he said. The challenges showed them that manufacturing is more than just manual labor.

“It’s good for them to see that you can do the hands-on stuff, but you’ve also got to be able to think,” Dahmer said.

In addition to challenging students’ problem-solving skills, the day was also a chance for local companies to showcase the variety of careers offered locally. Farbest’s challenge, for example, was designed to show the students that Farbest Foods involves more than just a meat plant. The company needs farmers, engineers, information technology specialists and maintenance staff like electricians and plumbers to make the operation work. Maddox ended each challenge asking the students what career they wanted, and relating their answers to Farbest. Maddox grew up in Santa Claus and graduated from Heritage Hills. He recalled that most of his classmates left the area and pursued engineering and manufacturing jobs elsewhere. He hopes the next generation will stay.

“Our goal is to keep them in the area and not going out of state,” Maddox said. “We need them here.”

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