The practice of turning what's learned in the classroom into real-world knowledge isn't easy, but increasingly college students have the ability to compete in industry-sponsored contests that help. For ag engineers, a long-time contest has challenged the best to compete with a student-built tractor.

The program is called the International Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition –or IQS for short— and it's aimed at providing students with real-world experience they can put to use after graduation. The program, now in its 17th year, starts the previous year with release of tractor design rules and culminates with a four-day event in Peoria, Ill.

To compete successfully, students design and build a tractor. Key parts of that experience include creating an in-depth written design report that's judged by industry engineers; they also build a tractor that gets a thorough technical inspection and design review during the Peoria event. The design review considers a range of areas including safety, ergonomics, manufacturability, serviceability and test and development. Students must also make an oral presentation to a mock corporate review panel, made up of real-world engineers and a representative from sales/marketing (the author is a judge in the competition).

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And the crowning glory of the competition is a tractor pull where the student-built machines complete four hooks, two in the 1,000-pound class and two in the 1,500-pound class. While a lot of work goes into getting the tractor to the pull, the students' eyes are on that sled almost from the beginning.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma State University are both long-time competitors in the program. Texas A&M took part in the first competition in 1998. And Oklahoma State has been involved for 15 years. A third school - Lamar University - took part in the event for the second year in 2014, though the team's tractor wasn't able to compete in the final tractor pull.