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.

Tractor successes

For A&M the 2014 competition year was solid. The team's tractor, which students named Walker, Texas Ranger, came in third for the tractor pull.  The event is more than a pull, and A&M took second place for the team Written Design Report. This is where students document their work, testing and other information and the report is reviewed by engineers. Team advisers for A&M include Steve Searcy and Ron Lacey.

Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, competed for the second straight year in the event. However, the team ran into a problem this year with their tractor. They weren't able to clear tech to compete in the tractor pull, but the team did win this year's Sportsmanship Award, which honors teams that "exhibit a continually positive attitude and is willing to look beyond its own needs to assist other teams," according to the organizers.

The Oklahoma State University Team - the Cowboy Pullers - brought Pete's Vendetta to this year's competition. The machine's operator-forward design was built to enhance pulling power. The tractor even had LED lighting to light up its orange lettering during operation. Team adviser is Robert Frazier.

The overall first place team for the 2014 competition was the University of Kentucky; they placed second in 2013.

You can learn more about the 2014 ASABE competition by visiting www.asabe.org.