Jackson Intermediate Center Wins National Fluid Power Association's Challenge

Author: Allison Nanni

By Allison Nanni

A four-person team of students from the South Bend School Corporation’s Jackson Intermediate Center took top honors at the 2011 NFPA (National Fluid Power Association) Challenge at the University of Notre Dame on December 2nd.

The Fluid Power Challenge is a six-week initiative, sponsored by Mishawaka-based Daman Products Company that tested the problem-solving abilities of forty-nine students from nine of the South Bend School Corporations’ intermediate centers.

It’s a great opportunity for discovery, says Larry Davis, Daman president.


In 2010, Daman decided to bring one of the National Fluid Power Association’s model junior high competitions to Michiana, with a goal of encouraging local students to select more engineering classes in their high school curricula.

Davis had observed a shortage of the engineering skills needed to sustain the fluid power industry in the region. Students exposed to engineering courses in high school are more likely to pursue technology-based, post-secondary studies, he says.

“This is NOT like being in a classroom,” Davis notes. “The students learn that the process of discovery is not linear. It’s good to mess up and then apply what you learn to your next attempt. To develop a solution to an engineering problem requires real world skills.”

The competition focuses not only on developing mechanical and fluid power skills, but also exposes each four-person team to project and resource management, team collaboration and the challenges of meeting a deadline. Ideally, each four-person group is comprised of two 7th- and two 8th-grade students, with an equal representation of boys and girls.

Matt Giloth, distributor services manager at Daman Products, now handles the operations of the Fluid Power Challenge.

Giloth, who has been with the company for over 25 years, explains that Daman has a history of working to influence education. With the support of partners such as the National Science Foundation, the University of Notre Dame, General Sheet Metal, Womack and Barnaby’s Pizza, the company has multiplied its impact.

During the first competition in 2010, Notre Dame engineering students acted as mentors to each of the teams. “The kids really enjoyed the mentorship piece,” says Giloth, “I’m confident we can arrange the involvement of even more Notre Dame Students next year.” 


Laura Marzotto the South Bend Community School Corporation’s director of career and technical education, has been an integral part of the competition’s success, Daman executives say.

When approached with the idea, Marzotto was eager to involve South Bend’s intermediate center students.

“When someone approaches you with an opportunity this good, you can’t walk away!” she says. “Our local business community brings the real world to our students. We can’t do that without these types of partnerships.”

Adds Marzotto, “This is project-based learning at its best. The students are given a problem, basic instruction and guidance. On challenge day, the teams recreate their ‘solution’ from scratch within a set time limit. Although Jackson Intermediate Center walked away with top honors, every single team showed up prepared to compete. What makes it fun for the students is that they are in control of their own learning.”