Last year, Fort Hays State University technology students went to Nashville, TN, in hopes of ending a three-year string of runner-up finishes in the Live Manufacturing competition at the national competition.
This March, TECA students from FHSU went to the national competition in Albuquerque, NM, as the reigning champions.
They still reign.
The Manufacturing team -- Chris Brubeck, Osborne senior; Jeremy LeDuc, Assaria senior; Layne Parry, Morganville senior; Tommy Perez, Lakin senior; and Tim Rector, Johnson senior -- took the top spot in the Live Manufacturing contest at the 66th annual International Technology Education Association conference.
Nine members of FHSU's TECA competed in the various competitions. Competitors in addition to the Manufacturing team were Matt Dreher, WaKeeney junior, Nick King, Dodge City sophomore, Nick Lane, Ulysses sophomore, and Stu Moeckel, Ellsworth senior.
Kim Stewart, professor of technology studies and TECA sponsor, has been at FHSU for seven years. In the eight years, including the year before he came, when FHSU also won the Manufacturing competition, the FHSU team has failed to place first or second only once, and that was a year when the team did not make it out of the finals.
The national competition in this category, unlike the other six competitions, is limited to winners of the four regional competitions.
"The primary focus of the Manufacturing competition is the process," said Stewart. "The premise of this whole competition is that we have to design the jigs for the product run, design the plant layout and design the operations. All of our drawings and jigs, all of our operations charts and plant layout have to match our actual layout as part of the grading process."
All four of the regional champions are given a product to manufacture and each team then has four hours to come up with all the steps involved in creating a manufacturing system for the product and to actually produce four copies of the product. The competition uses wood, said Stewart, because it is easy to manipulate.
The product this year was a Toys-for-Tots-type game.
Sometimes people are dismissive because the product is made from wood, said Stewart, "but we spend a month here to design and make the jigs for the Toys for Tots that we do for the community every year, and in the competition they only have three and a half hours."
The fun part, he said, is the half-hour the contestant get to actually manufacture four copies of the item.
"The process outweighs the product," he said.
Because the team only took nine people, they only participated in four of the seven competitions.
The team for Technology Challenge, a quiz bowl about technology, made it to the top eight. In Problem Solving, the teams are given a Rube Goldberg-type gadget to make out of materials provided.
"It makes you become a creative thinker," said Stewart. "You have to come up with a method that works time and time again."
In the Transportation competition, the team had to develop a glider that replicated the Wright brothers plane and give a rationale for why they did what they did.
"We had a very good design and glider, but did not make it into the top four," said Stewart. In these contests, only the top four teams know their placements.
There are also three other contests: Communication, in which the teams 30-second commercials about an assigned subject; Teaching Lesson, in which the teams present lessons in teaching; and Technical Presentation, in which the students take a pre-determined subject such as the environment and give a technical presentation.
"The contests are meant to bring technology education students together so that they can socialize and learn from each other," said Stewart. "The contests are very competitive, but it's a very friendly competition."
Duane Renfrow, associate professor of technology studies, is co-sponsor with Stewart of TECA.