LIMA — When many people think about 4-H, the images that come to mind often involve farm animals being shown at county fairs. Rockets and robotics do not usually come to mind.
However, for 63 years, 4-H has held the National Engineering Challenge, with the latest installment held from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at Purdue University. Teams from every state gather in West Lafayette, Ind., to show their skills in a variety of engineering catatories, from aerospace to computer software engineering to small engines. The goal is to excite young people about potential engineering careers through hands-on work.
Ohio sent 12 students to the competition, including Allen County's Evan Bell, Logan County's Chance Coil, Melissa Finsel from Hancock County and the Paulding County trio of Matthew Klopfenstein, Arlen Stoller and Alec Kuhn.
For June Bell, Evan's mother, this event was a fascinating experience.
“For the Aerospace portion, they had less than 12 hours to design and build a rocket,” she said. “There was a whole tub of materials for the project with things like toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, milk jugs and other household garbage. They had to take junk and make it work.”
Bell, now a senior at Shawnee High School, along with his teammate, Union County's Clay DuVal, finished tied for first with Maryland in their competition. June Bell also said that Ohio can take a lot of pride in how well the rest of the state's contingent performed.
“We were very well represented,” she said. “Melissa Finsel, who was our welder, won, the robotics team took first and the aerospace team also tied for first.”
While events involving aerospace and rocket design still take place at the Allen County Fair, June Bell said she is hopeful the public can continue to rally around the engineering programs in the local 4-H chapter, as it has been experiencing a shortage in funding.
“We're one of the few counties that actually flies rockets, and they're debating whether they want to continue this,” she said.
For now, the Bells, along with the families of the rest of the competitors, can enjoy their fond memories of their time at Purdue.
“It was a fascinating time,” she said. “Just a wonderful experience.”