Contributed

Zak Kurkowski drives the A-Team tractor in the International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition that earned the team first.

Zak Kurkowski UNL team wins international competition

Jaci Kurkowski team places second in division

Zak Kurkowski, a 2015 PC grad, served as a co-captain of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln quarter-scale tractor A-Team that took top honors at the International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition held May 30-June 2 in Peoria, Ill. 

Kurkowski, who just graduated in ag engineering, started on the UNL quarter-scale team his freshman year, following in brother Kye Kurkowski’s footsteps. Kye graduated from PC in 2010. 

The A-Team, made up of juniors and seniors, build a new tractor each year.

The X team, made up of freshmen and sophomores,  takes the A team tractor from the year before and works to improve it. 

Zak’s younger sister, 2018 PC grad Jaci Kurkowski, is currently a member of the X team. They placed second overall in their division.

According to UNL, this year’s competition brought 24 collegiate teams from the United States, Canada and Israel together to test their skills at the event hosted by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). 

The competition is unique among student engineering-design contests, providing a realistic 360-degree workplace experience. Teams are given a 31-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine and a set of Titan tires. The design and build of the tractor is up to each team and is tested and perfected over the course of a year. 

In advance of the competition, teams must submit a written design report. Onsite, they must sell their design, in a formal presentation to industry experts playing the role of a corporate management team. 

Finally, machines are put to the test in three performance events: three tractor pulls, a maneuverability course and a durability course. Industry leaders judge each design for innovation, manufacturability, serviceability, maneuverability, safety, sound level and ergonomics.

Kurkowski said they didn’t have to do any serious repairs at the competition, which was probably a first. 

“We were confident we had a decent tractor that would perform well. We were pretty fortunate that nothing went wrong. All of our events continued to go well for us, and we ended up winning it,” he said. 

The intense competition is extremely helpful to tractor team members, many of whom are agricultural engineering majors, according to Roger Hoy, professor in biological systems engineering and tractor team advisor.

“The students demonstrated that they can successfully take classroom lessons and apply them to real-world engineering problems,” said Hoy. “The students that participated on quarter-scale this year have excellent character, work ethic and values.”

Nebraska’s agricultural engineering program is one of the nation’s top programs that emphasizes hands-on applications in and out of the classroom, such as participating in the quarter-scale tractor competition.

Kurkowski said he felt participating on the team was great engineering experience, and also really helped him in his job search, as many companies are familiar with the competition. 

He is now working as a design engineer at AGCO Corporation in Hesston, Kansas. 

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