Future City Competition Reveals Youthful Optimism Based on Solid Engineering and a Lot of Hard Work

To anyone worried about what tomorrow may bring, seventh- and eighth-graders across America have an answer:  It will take a lot of work, but things are going to be fine.

For students heading to the 16th annual Future City National Finals, February 18-20 at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., looking to the years ahead has been a steady pastime during the past several months as they’ve perfected their designs for cities of tomorrow.  Despite the fact that they must consider harsh realities such as aging infrastructure, climate change, and economic difficulties as they gaze into the future, their overall outlook is one of promise and hope.

“Life will be a lot easier,” predicts Gabrielle Rocco, a member of the winning team from Islip Middle School in Islip, New York, which will represent the New York City competition, one of a record-breaking 37 participating regions at the National Finals.  “Engineers will invent robots to help us.  There will be less pollution, more alternative fuels, the air won’t be as polluted and there won’t be so much global warming.”

It’s much more than wishful thinking.  The competition, students say, has taught them that a better future is up to them.

“With Future City you can look at things from a different point of view,” says Jeremy Boyd, a seventh-grader on the team from Heritage Middle School in Westerville, Ohio, his state’s regional winner.  “In my opinion, it’s a way to live a better life.”

Future City, now in its 16th year, asks middle school students to develop futuristic urban designs, first on computer and then in large tabletop models.  Working in teams with a teacher and volunteer engineer mentor, students create their cities using the SimCity 3000TM videogame donated to all participating schools by Electronic Arts, Inc. of Redwood City, California.  From that design, they build large table-top models using recycled materials with a budget of less than $100.  They 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.  At regional competitions in January and at the National Finals, they present, defend, and answer questions about their cities before a panel of engineer judges.

For one of the winning regional teams – Westridge Middle School in Shawnee Mission, Kansas – working for a better future is particularly realistic.  Their model is based on rebuilding Greensburg, the small Kansas town virtually wiped from the map by a tornado last year.  For team member Amy Marie Hocker, 14, the effort is more than just rebuilding a physical city.  “We want to open people’s eyes that there is hope after a natural disaster.”

Regional competition winning teams receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington for the Future City National Finals, hosted by Bentley Systems, Incorporated, a leading provider of infrastructure design and engineering software. 

“Part of our responsibility as industry leaders lies in developing the talented and diverse workforce who will be designing the world’s infrastructure in the future,” says Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley.  “We’ve joined with many others who support the National Engineers Week Future City Competition because of its unique ability for inspiring students to consider career choices that might otherwise have overlooked engineering.  The combination of engineer mentors, hands-on learning, and teamwork engages students and opens the door to endless possibilities for them and the engineering profession.” 

At the National Finals, students will vie for the grand prize of a week at US Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.  Some 30,000 students from more than 1,111 schools – a record number of registered schools – participated in 2007-08.  Future City is sponsored in part by the National Engineers Week Foundation, a formal coalition of more than 75 engineering, professional, and technical societies and some 50 corporations and government agencies.  Engineers Week 2008, February 17-23, is co-chaired by IBM and the Chinese Institute of Engineers-USA.

John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Company, which provides funding to nine regional competitions in addition to the National Finals, says the forward thinking the competition generates benefits the entire profession.  “Shell is pleased to support Future City because it encourages achievement in technology and engineering at an early age," said Hofmeister.  “Future City provides Shell an opportunity to identify promising young students.  As Shell continues to seek talent in the areas of math and science, we will continue to look to proven programs such as Future City to help us connect with students with those necessary skills.”

A glance at some of the essays on nanotechnology – this year’s essay is sponsored by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) – offers a peek into an astounding grasp of a discipline most adults barely even know. 

Heritage Middle School’s essay, for example, succinctly delves into using nanotechnology to monitor its city’s wastewater.  “To maximize efficiency,” the students write, “microelectro-mechanical machines oversee nanosensors implanted within pipes…nanosensors, robotic nanopigs, nanosponges, carbon nanotubes, nanodigibots, nanosensor stress bots, and smart table technology have been used throughout the system.”

Embracing such advanced engineering concepts underscores the rigors of the program as well as the tenacity of the students, says Future City National Director Carol Rieg.  “No matter what we give these young people, they consistently rise to the challenge,” she says.  “Future City sparks imaginations to see engineering as a critical component of their world and a viable pathway for their own futures.”

For Melissa Doan, 13, from St. Philip Neri, the school that will represent Oklahoma at National Finals, working on Future City was a glimpse into a not-too-distant horizon.  “We’re researching and writing about a technology that one day will actually be part of our lives.”

“I see lots of future engineers here,” says Dane Horna, P.E., the mentor for Davidson International Baccalaureate Middle School in Davidson, North Carolina, winners of the North Carolina regional competition.  Horna, senior consultant and vice president of S&ME, Inc., an engineering and environmental consulting firm based in Charlotte, explains that he saw how the competition evokes the very essence of engineering in young people.

“We can challenge kids to meet or exceed expectations, to do more and want to learn more,” he says.  “Future City teaches everyone that we can work out problems, and that we need to work out problems.”  The results, Horna adds, were astounding.  “Can you believe 13-year-old kids are developing these ideas?”     

And it’s not just the students who are feeling optimistic.  Mary Kay Peters, the teacher on the winning team from St. Alphonsus School in Greendale, Wisconsin, that state’s regional winner, notes that she’s impressed with the outlook of this new generation.  “Our future,” she says, “is in very good hands.”

• Future City National Finals – First-place teams from 37 regional competitions: Alabama, Arizona, Northern California, Southern California, Colorado, Florida, Florida-Tampa Bay, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas-Great Plains, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada-Las Vegas, Northern Nevada, New England, New Jersey, New York-Albany Capital District, New York-Buffalo, New York City, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania-Central, Pennsylvania-Philadelphia, Pennsylvan
ia-Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Texas-Houston, North Texas, Washington, D.C., Washington State, and Wisconsin.  For more information visit www.futurecity.org.

• Heading the Future City Competition Leadership Council is Future City National Finals host Bentley Systems, Incorporated (www.bentley.com), a leading provider of infrastructure design and engineering software.  Shell Oil Company (www.shell.com) is a major contributor to the Future City National Finals and primary funder of nine regional competitions.  The 2008 Future City Essay sponsor is The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (www.ieee.org).

• National Finals First-Place team wins a trip to US Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, provided by Bentley Systems, Incorporated.  Second-place team receives a $2,000 scholarship for the school’s technology program, provided by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.  Third-place team receives a $1,000 scholarship for the school technology curriculum, provided by The National Society of Professional Engineers. Winning teams (three students, teacher, engineer mentor) from each qualifying regional competition receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington for National Finals.  Visit www.futurecity.org.

• Future City National Finals Special Awards (27): Best Model, Best Essay, Most Innovative Design of Infrastructure Systems, Best Indoor Environment, Most Sustainable Buildings, Best Futuristic City, Best Communications System, Protecting the Public’s Safety and Welfare through Competent and Ethical Engineering Practices, Most Innovative Power Generation System, Best Manufacturing Zone, Best Transportation System, Excellence In Systems Integration, Best Residential Zone, Best Use of Aerospace Technology in a Future City, Best Use of Innovative Construction Materials and Techniques, Best Representation of Manufacturer Supply Chains, Best Land Surveying Practices, Most Innovative Uses of Aggregates (Crushed Stone, Sand & Gravel) in Designing Future Cities, Best Management of Water Resources, Best Fire Protection Engineering, Innovative Solutions for Waste and Wastewater Utilities to Reduce Costly Reinvestment in America’s Aging Infrastructure, Best Use of Fuel Cell Systems as a Sustainable Energy Source, Best Future City Project Plan, Best Project Team, and Best Context Sensitive which integrates historical and cultural features into today’s environment, Accessible City Award, Best Futuristic Personal Transportation System.

• Future City National Finals Judges:  Rear Admiral Richard F. Barror, U.S. Public Health Service; Shayla Fahey, Hughes Network Systems; J. J. Hermes, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Future City 1998 alumnus; Maria del Pilar Rodriguez, graduate student, electrical and computing engineering, University of Virginia; Zarina Lam Stanford, IBM and Chinese Institute of Engineers-USA (Engineers Week 2008 Co-Chairs); James J. Wynne, Ph.D., IBM T.J. Watson Research Center (Engineers Week 2008 Co-Chair).

• 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.

• About SimCityTM:  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 2000TM (1993), SimCity 3000 TM (1999), and SimCity4 TM (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 SPORTSTM, EATM, EA SPORTS BIGTM and POGOTM.  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.