Revving Up Students' Skills with Motorsports: Not Only Are Students Getting Hands-On Experience, They Will Graduate from Parkland with Skills That Are Applicable to Real-Life Situations, Such as Teamwork, Leadership and Critical Thinking

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Car engines roar as the announcer calls the start of the driving competition, with each driver wing for that first place title. Sounds of merriment fill the air as the crowd cheers on. No, this isn't NASCAR, this is an organized drag car competition that Parkland College students are participating in. Drag racing is just one of the exciting sporting activities that students enrolled in the college's Engineering Science and Technologies program get an opportunity to be part of.

The college, located in Champaign, Illinois, has provided affordable career-tech and academic education to area residents since 1966. It serves a district of about 235,692 residents, 62 communities and 30 high schools. Since it was established, more than 219,000 students have attended Parkland. Today, about 31 percent of students graduating from the district high schools enroll at Parkland, and no doubt some of them end up as members of Parkland Motorsports--revving up their racecar engines.

Parkland Motorsports

Parkland Motorsports, a student-run organization, gives automotive technology students the opportunity to experience motorsports beyond the classroom. They work on cars, plan and annual car show, attend the Chicago auto show, and take automotive-related business trips. The organization owns three racecars, which include a UMP Sportsman dirt car, a 1980 Chevy Malibu drag car, and a 1990 Honda Civic, all driven by students competitively. Although the Honda Civic required little repairs and changes this season, the other two cars were revamped. The UMP Sportsman, donated in late 2007, is one of the latest projects Parkland students have worked on when they rebuilt the car's chassis and engine. Exercising the automotive skills they acquired through the program, students completely disassembled the car, repaired the frame, assembled the engine, and re-assembled the car. The turnaround time to complete this overhaul was quick because the goal was to have the car finished in time for racing in late April.

Students are training to drive the 1980 Chevy Malibu drag car for bracket racing competition throughout the summer and fall 2008 season. This drag car, donated in 2000, has been operational for seven years and has undergone maintenance, including the installation of fresh rings and bearings in the engine, and a new gear in the transmission. The gear change will allow quarter-mile racing at Gateway International Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.

"The local autocross schedule begins at the start of April and we hope to participate in one event every month through the fall." said Jonathan Ross, Parkland Motorsports adviser. Participating in competitions and events may sound like fun and games but there are requirements students must meet before they are permitted to take part. In addition to maintaining a minimum 2.5 GPA, and having a current driver's license, students are expected to crew for a car a minimum of two events and do practice runs before they can receive consent to drive in competitions.

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Through Parkland Motorsports students are able to build partnerships with local businesses. The latest is with Bob Pierce Racecars, in Oakwood, Illinois. Through this partnership, students will assemble one of Pierce's award-winning modified dirt car chassis in class.

"This is an example of a great partnership. Parkland College gets to work on some of the best products in the industry, and Bob Pierce gets to have his products in the hands of some people who might never have had the opportunity," said Ross.

Gaining Vital Skills

Not only are students getting hands-on experience, they will graduate from Parkland with skills that are applicable to real-life situations, such as teamwork, leadership and critical thinking.

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"No other homework assignment allows students to practice the skills they need for today's workforce. …