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Tyler Bredesen, left, and Joe Tonsfeldt from the Willmar High School Industrial Technology class, remove a panel to show the inner workings made for one of their team's Supermileage challenge vehicles. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)
Tyler Bredesen, left, and Joe Tonsfeldt from the Willmar High School Industrial Technology class, remove a panel to show the inner workings made for one of their team's Supermileage challenge vehicles. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Team members find practical applications for knowledge gained from Tech Challenge

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The members of the Willmar Senior High Supermileage team found out the hard way that the stock car they built was a pretty tough one.

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On one of their last runs in the state competition in May at the Brainerd International Raceway, driver Nicki Schueler was cut off by another car and swerved to avoid a collision. She hit the shoulder at about 30 mph and rolled the light car.

Nicki came out of the crash with a nasty scrape on her arm but was otherwise uninjured. The car's bright red Fiberglas body has some interesting scrapes, as well.

The eight-member team placed fourth among 15 cars in the modified division and sixth among 54 cars in the stock division in the state Supermileage competition.

The goal is to build small, light vehicles that could travel hundreds of miles on a gallon of gas. In the stock car category, the team's highest run was 607.53 mpg, and the average of its best six runs was 348.33 mpg. The modified car had a top run of 505.31 mpg, and the six-run average was 459.81.

Building the Supermileage cars is a project in teacher Mike Kroeker's Tech Challenge course at the Senior High. The class is the "capstone" of the school's technology curriculum, called Project Lead The Way. It allows them to use knowledge gained in other classes in a practical application.

Other projects this year included an architecture project to design a strip mall, develop a virtual walk-through of the building and build a model. One team designed a machine to open a can of pop, pour the beverage into a glass and then crush and dispose of the can. An engineering team built a robot tank to navigate an obstacle course.

Competitions are sponsored by the Minnesota Technology Education Association.

All of the teams have been working on their projects since the class started in mid-January.

The class requires at least two hours of work outside class each week. As deadlines approach, the teams sometimes spend 10 hours or more in the shop outside class time.

The class involves much more than building the machines.

The students design their projects and have the designs approved. They learn to work in teams. Engineering notebooks are kept by everyone in the class, documenting the work completed each day and the steps forward and back in the course of development.

The class requires its members to draw knowledge from a number of areas they've studied, including drafting, math, science and communications.

Sometimes, they have to learn new skills.

Brittney Edwardson and Ben Watson had drafting and electronics knowledge but had to learn how to work with metals to build their tank. The pop can machine team taught themselves how to do the wiring and pneumatics.

Members of the Supermileage team had specialties, with different people working primarily on the engines, steering or welding. The pop can team members shared responsibilities across all parts of the project.

Joe Tonsfeldt said the class "teaches a lot of patience." Teams can spend many hours modifying their cars and trying to build on previous years' successes.

In their state competitions, the tank didn't do so well on the obstacle course. The pop can machine and the architecture teams got excellent ratings, which the team members said is like getting second place. Superior is the top rating.

While they didn't get the top ratings they were seeking -- the pop can machine spilled a little; the strip mall's virtual walk-through video moved a little too fast -- the students in the class said they will take other things away from the class.

The judges praised the quality of their work and designs, despite the glitches during competition.

They learned to seek community donations to help pay for their projects and sometimes learned to make do with what they could find in Kroeker's storeroom of parts from previous years' projects.

They've become friends with students they may not have known well before.

Many of them are interested in careers in engineering, drafting, mechanics or architecture, so they have practical experience to take along to college.

Edwardson, on her way to an engineering program, said the things she learned in the class will help her understand more about how her designs will be built -- to "talk the talk and walk the walk."

Kroeker said his class had some interesting projects this year. It was also the first time the engineering or Supermileage teams had female members, which went well.

The girls were readily accepted in the class, he said.

Indeed, Nicki's male teammates blame the other driver for the crash, but they do continue to tease her about it.

As the school continues to implement Project Lead the Way technology classes, the class will eventually be called engineering design and development, Kroeker said.

Kroeker said he has appreciated the assistance of retired engineer David Bennett and shop assistant Pat Wheeler during the class. Bennett has volunteered to work with the Supermileage teams for the past four years.

Class members listed by team:

Supermileage team: Miles Adkins, Ben Barnes, Tyler Bredesen, Sam John, Brandon Pantekoek, Phil Reigstad, Nicki Schueler, Richard Thorpe, Joe Tonsfeldt.

Architecture, strip mall design: Ben Atchison, Dan Boedingheimer, Zach Chester, Aaron Larson, Caleb Van Den Einde

Engineering, tank: Brittney Edwardson, Ben Watson

Engineering, pop can machine: Zach Cordes, Joel Hedlof, Steve Kluver, Patrick Schueller

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