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Seventh- and eighth-graders in the annual National Engineers Week Future City Competition™ normally create cities with utopia in mind. This year, they're also confronting the world's worst urban disasters and there's no mistaking them for utopia.
From a small Kansas town destroyed last year by a tornado, to the war ravaged Gaza Strip, to Linfen, China, one of the most polluted cities on earth, Future City students across the country are dealing with real problems, determined to prevent them and build a better tomorrow.
Future City, in its 16th year, asks middle school students to create a city, first on computer and then in a large tabletop model. Students present and defend their designs before volunteer engineer judges from the community at regional competitions in January.
More than 30,000 students from 1,111 schools - a record number of registered schools - in 40 regions are participating this year. Working in teams with a teacher and volunteer engineer mentor, they create their cities using the SimCity 3000™ videogame donated by Electronic Arts, Inc. of Redwood City, California. They also write a city abstract and an essay on using engineering to solve an important social need - this year's theme asks students to describe how nanotechnology will monitor their city's structures and systems to keep its infrastructure healthy.
A sampling of projects from across the country indicates that this year's Future City students are facing some of the most difficult challenges on the globe and engineering solutions.
Students at Westridge Middle School in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, are using the hometown of their fellow Kansans in Greensburg for the basis of their Future City. Last May, a Category 5 tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg and killed 11 residents. "It was blown straight off the map," explains team member Charlie King Hagan, 13, adding confidently, "so we're taking what was left and building into the future."
At Kutztown Area Middle School in Pennsylvania, students are wrestling with the difficulties of rebuilding Gaza, a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Relying on months of research, the Future City team is looking far beyond the hostilities by creating a way to desalinate seawater for the impoverished region using cutting edge nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology involves the creation of materials, devices and systems through manipulating matter less than 100 nanometers in length. A nanometer is one-millionth of a millimeter, so engineers and scientists in nanotechnology work with items smaller than molecules, essentially atoms.
The Future City 2008 essay theme also plays a major role for the team from Nativity of Our Lord School in Orchard Park, New York, near Buffalo. Those students have adopted Linfen, China, with a population in excess of four million and more than 200 major contaminants in its air and water, as the model for their city.
"We're really optimistic," says Stephanie Houser, an 8th-grade member of the team. "Nanotechnology is so small it can filter arsenic from water and it can absorb air pollution, too."
Sponsored in part by the National Engineers Week Foundation, a coalition of more than 75 engineering, professional, and technical societies and some 50 corporations and government agencies, Future City is the largest and most successful education program of its kind. Regional winning teams receive an all-expense-paid trip to the Future City National Finals, hosted by Bentley Systems, Incorporated, in Washington, D.C., February 18-20, 2008 during Engineers Week, February 17-23. National grand prize is a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Numerous other prizes are awarded at the regional competitions.
"The Minneapolis freeway bridge collapse in August is an example of how we could better monitor our infrastructures using nanotechnology sensors and control systems," explains CDR Mark Bellis, a civil engineer who serves as commanding officer of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-27, also known as the Seabees, and volunteers as mentor to the Orchard Park team. "Future City teaches these young people how the built infrastructure affects their lives."
John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil Company, which provides funding to nine regional competitions in addition to the National Finals, says Future City's forward thinking benefits the entire profession. "Shell encourages achievement in technology and engineering," he notes, "so Future City fits perfectly with our strategy to support promising students as they pursue innovative projects with an underlying emphasis on math and science, extremely important skills for many occupations at Shell. And as the number of graduates in engineering and geosciences diminishes, it's ever more important to encourage students to build these skills at an early age."
Audrey Grossen, a 7th-grader at St. Philip Neri School in Midwest City, Oklahoma, is already developing a grasp of the importance of nanotechnology. "It's going to be a big part of our lives," she says. "It's on the scale of atoms and molecules so it's pretty much down to the bone." Her teammate, Hannah Govette, says that their city's design uses "dendritic polymers, hexagonal carbon tubes and other nanotechnologies" to filter drinking water. Hannah is 13.
Getting to the point where she can discuss such concepts was a lot of work, she admits, but worth it. "I'm busier and I get to bed later," she says of the after-school hours and weekends spent on Future City, "but I'm completely dedicated 100 percent." She adds, "It's great that there's a project
like this that challenges us to the limit and helps us find a career. I'm considering engineering, especially since Future City, and now with learning about nanotechnology, I'd like to pursue that."
Future City national director Carol Rieg notes that direct, hands-on experience proves to be among the most successful routes to acquainting young people with engineering. "They see engineering as a direct influence on their lives, and how math and science are relevant to their world. Meanwhile the engineer mentors serve as role models that embody the humanity of the profession. We reach these children just when they start to consider where they want to go in their lives."
For Commander Bellis, who spent a year in Iraq helping to rebuild the infrastructure of Anbar Province, mentors benefit, too, especially from the joy of working with kids.
That connection to the humanity of engineering is not missed on Alex Laudadio, 12, from Kutztown Area Middle School. He says that researching Gaza City's problems hasn't daunted his hope for a better tomorrow. "You take all that violence and settle it and get this beautiful outcome."
For him, the seriousness of his efforts brings gratification. "Sure you can get to level 50 of the video game and that does give you satisfaction," he says, "but, at the end of Future City you're proud of what you've done." Alex adds, "That's true happiness."
About Future City Competition
* The 40 regional sites participating in the 2008 competition are: Alabama, Arizona, Northern California, Southern California, Colorado, Florida, Florida-Tampa Bay, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas-Great Plains, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada-Las Vegas, Northern Nevada, New Jersey, New York-Albany Capital District, New York-Buffalo, New York City, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania-Central, Pennsylvania-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Texas-Houston, North Texas, Virginia-Hampton Roads, Washington, D.C., Washington State, and Wisconsin. For more information visit www.futurecity.org.
* The winning team (three students, teacher, and engineer mentor) from each qualifying regional Future City Competition receives an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals. National champion team wins a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, provided by National Finals host Bentley Systems, Incorporated, a leading engineering software company.
Second-place team receives a $2,000 scholarship for the school's technology program, sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. A $1,000 scholarship for the third-place team's school technology curriculum is provided by The National Society of Professional Engineers. Numerous other prizes are awarded at regional competitions.
* The National Engineers Week Future City Competition is sponsored in part by the National Engineers Week Foundation, a coalition comprising more than 75 engineering, professional, and technical societies and more than 50 corporations and government agencies. Founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers, the coalition is dedicated to sustaining and growing a dynamic engineering profession by ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce, increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers among young students, and promoting pre-college literacy in math and science. Among the oldest of America’s professional outreach efforts, Engineers Week also raises public understanding and appreciation of engineering contributions to society through year-round innovative programming and celebration. Co-chairs for Engineers Week 2008, February 17-23, are the Chinese Institute of Engineers-USA (CIE-USA) and IBM. For more information visit www.eweek.org.
* Heading the Future City Competition Leadership Council is Bentley Systems, Incorporated (www.bentley.com). The 2008 Future City essay sponsor is The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) (www.ieee.org).
* Shell Oil Company (www.shell.com) is the primary funder of nine regional Future City Competitions and a major contributor to the Future City National Finals.
* About SimCity™: The SimCity franchise is one of the most popular PC gaming franchises in history, having sold more than 18 million games worldwide to date since the SimCity launch in 1989. Subsequent base game releases include SimCity 2000™ (1993), SimCity 3000 ™ (1999), and SimCity4 ™ (2003). The next installment – SimCity Societies – was released for the PC and for mobile devices on November 13, 2007.
* About Electronic Arts: Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), headquartered in Redwood City, California, is the world's leading interactive entertainment software company. Founded in 1982, the company develops, publishes, and distributes interactive software worldwide for video game systems, personal computers, cellular handsets and the Internet. Electronic Arts markets its products under four brand names: EA SPORTS™, EA™, EA SPORTS BIG™ and POGO™. In fiscal 2007, EA posted revenue of $3.09 billion and had 24 titles that sold more than one million copies. EA’s homepage and online game site is www.ea.com. More information about EA’s products and full text of press releases can be found at http://info.ea.com . EA, EA SPORTS, EA SPORTS BIG, POGO, SimCity and The Sims are trademarks or registered trademarks of Electronic Arts Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries.
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