Six 8th graders. Two teacher-mentors. One challenge. Equals the opportunity to grow and rise to unknown challenges through the iChallengeUth program.

iChallengeUth Students Examining a Thermotron Benchtop ChamberiChallengeUth, a subset of the FuturePrep program through the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD), groups seventh and eighth-grade students with two area teachers and places them in an area business to come up with practical solutions to a problem the businesses face.

The iChallenge Uth program provides area middle school students with real-world experience to develop employability, collaboration, and communication skills.

The Thermotron group was presented with the challenge of improving the manufacturing efficiency of a benchtop environmental chamber: Reduce the number of building days from 5 to 3 in order to increase productivity and devote more time to manufacturing other products. The students worked for a week with Thermotron employees asking thoughtful, tactful questions to improve the building process. Then, they worked as a group to come up with an efficient, practical solution.

Bill Mousel, one of the teacher-mentors, said that the challenge Thermotron presented was the most interesting and hands-on challenge of any of the participating groups.

“The kids really latched on to the challenge and were excited about coming up with solutions,” Mousel said. “This was a real world problem dealing with product development and streamlining production.”

The students learned about reading environmental chamber design prints and how those prints turned into a benchtop chamber and all the processes involved. They also studied and experienced how all aspects of a company interact and affect one another, and how important working together and communication are to any process.

“It was nice to see the kids, who didn’t know each other at the beginning of the week, collaborate and work together toward a common goal,” said Bob DeBruyn, another teacher-mentor for the group. “It was interesting to see the way they each took a role in the group and how it naturally occurred.”

At the end of the week, the students presented several practical, cost effective solutions, such as adding a slide out tray to make benchtop chamber components more accessible, using different materials to simplify construction, and utilizing purposefully designed tools to work more efficiently. The ideas were presented to a group of Thermotron employees and leadership that have direct influence on changing the way a benchtop environmental chamber is manufactured.

Manufacturing managers were impressed with the students’ presentation style, thought processes, and ideas, some of which will likely be implemented in the production of benchtop environmental chambers.

For more information about iChallengeUth, visit

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