Future City competition brings engineering to life (New Jersey)
Food production remains a hot topic because experts think that by 2030, nearly all of the world's population growth will be concentrated in urban areas, plus Earth's fertile land won't be enough to feed the entire growing population. As the world is more aware of the need for citizens to have affordable and healthy food, the topic has become a timely one for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-based competition.
"Conducting background research and coming with a project idea really opened our eyes to the food dilemmas in America," said Isabel Vala, an eighth-grader at Valley View Middle School who worked on the project with classmates Jacqueline Lee and Annika Schmidt.
With 76 student teams and 500 visitors filling the Living Campus Student Center to capacity, sixth- to eighth-grade students competed to head to the national finals in Washington from Feb. 15 to 18, when the grand prize is $7,500 for the organization's STEM program, plus a visit to the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
New Jersey has hosted several top 10 national finishers as well as a first-place national prize in 2013 and a second place in 2014.
The state's Future City competition has also given generous grants throughout the eight consecutive years that it has been participating at the national level. Due to donations from organizations such as PSE&G and the American Society of Civil Engineers, $30,000 has been given back to school STEM programs.
Teams were made up of three students who presented their city models, consisting of items, such as CDs, coins, Asian take-out containers, computer keys and board game pieces, which were judged by a panel of volunteer engineers. Besides competing for the top 10, there were also 16 special awards, such as Best Recycling Plan and Best Engineering Design, in which some of the awards are Kindles, iPods, Six Flags tickets and Liberty Science Center tickets.
Vala, Lee and Schmidt worked on their project for more than 200 hours. Their city, Villa de Saine, means healthy city in French, the basis for their project.
"We wanted this to focus on a wholesome lifestyle," Schmidt said. "We were inspired by Detroit, which is currently going through an agricultural revolution. We wanted our city to not only look nice to live in but also have outlets to connect with others."
Elaine Chesebro, gifted and enrichment program teacher at Valley View Middle School who has overseen the program for six years, said that her students found this year's topic particularly interesting because of its relatability.
Because the project is very in-depth and contains various elements to complete before the regional finals, the students have been working on the project since the fall.
First, each team conducted research on agriculture and food problems and wrote an essay describing their proposed solution to feeding all of their hungry citizens. Then, they enlivened their idea by using SimCity software to design their Future City model with the incorporation of their solution. Finally, they built a tabletop-scale model using recycled materials of $100 or less alongside a brief narrative promoting their city.
Lee said that her favorite part was building the model.
"I enjoyed making our ideas come to life with a hot-glue gun in hand, attaching our pieces to the board," she said.
The intense program was very time consuming, but Lisa Lubarsky, Iselin Middle School teacher who has overseen the program for seven years, said that it was worth it.
"Although it's a stressful journey, I see the fulfillment that the kids get out of it when they arrive at the regional finals each year," she said.
Schmidt, who as an eighth-grader has completed her last year of eligibility at the Future City competition, said, "My only wish is that I could do it all again because we have done it for the last three years and now it's over."
Besides the deeper understanding of world issues accompanied by stronger abilities in science, math and engineering, students also developed their teamwork, time-management and public-speaking skills.
"Students find their strengths and they play off one another, like the person who is good at math does the measuring and the engineer designs the city," Chesebro said. "They all have to participate, but their individual strengths contribute to the success of the team."
It is this teamwork that many students, including Vedant Shenoy, Rekta Patel and Rhea Chadha of Iselin Middle School, cited as one of their favorite parts of the project.
It's already been proved that the Future City project has long-term value for participating students, whether or not they place in the competition. Lubarsky said that many of her former students have gone on to attend specialized engineering high schools and study engineering in college. Through the process, they find a new interest in engineering and learn about the different types of careers that engineers can have.
"I thought this project would just involve computers, but it was interesting to see how food, architecture and building was also woven into engineering," Shenoy said.
The Future City competition can also open the eyes of middle school students who, at their current level, don't have many options for classes.
"I think high schools have a lot more choices with classes, and in this process, they realize that maybe they do want to take a robotics class," Lubarsky said. "Our classes are very limited in middle school, so this gives them the opportunity to do something different. It opens their eyes to what is available."
Scott Lubarsky, Future City regional coordinator, said that the project also focuses on middle schoolers because it is a prime time in a student's life for beginning the conversation regarding career paths.
"We wanted to reach kids when they are just starting to think about what they want to do," he said. "We want to get them interested in being a scientist or engineer."
Staff Writer Jenna Intersimone: 908-243-6612; jintersimone @mycentraljersey.com
FUTURE CITY NEW JERSEY RESULTS
Heritage Middle School in Livingston with students Tina Li, Helen Yang, and Catherine Zhang
St. Paul Interparochial School in Ramsey with students Kevin Moclair, Owen Mitsinikos, Francesca Daszak, and Joseph Calianese
Valley View Middle School in Watchung with students Annika Schmidt, Isabel Vala, and Jacqueline Lee
Clifton T. Barkalow Middle School in Freehold Township with students Kelly Beuka, Rachel Strakowsky, Caitlyn Flores, and Sebrina Gao
Iselin Middle School in Iselin with students Loren Kennedy, Archi Parekh, and Dikshita Patel
Ocean Intermediate School in Ocean with students Jack Campanella, Michael Leitner, Michael Topper, and Robert Murphy
Doane Academy in Burlington with students Abby Cocelli, Brie Cocelli, Leila Daly, and Jayson O'Connell
Upper School in Englewood Cliffs with students Allison Tsai, Andrea Kwon, Kairui Huang
Transfiguration Academy in Bergenfield with students Thomas Lain, Georgina Paredes, and Benjamin Pichardo
Keyport Central School in Keyport
- Best Newcomer: Shell City from Hoboken Charter School (Hoboken) with students: Connor McIntyre, Florian Linares, Oz Yifrakh
- Healthiest City:Demasius from Transfiguration Academy (Bergenfield) with students: Yashaan Hafizka, Felix Raju, and Joshua deCastro
- Most Sustainable City: Rosewood from Hoboken Charter School (Hoboken) with students: Piper Phillips, Olivia Halstead, Addie Kriegel, Eli Conlin
- Most Accessible City: Orbis from Iselin Middle School (Iselin) with students: Sheaa Amin, Priyanka Patel, and Pranati Borkhetaria
- Best Zoning Practices: PurVille from Valley View School (Watchung) with students: Ariana Huang, Jasmine Hwang, Jasmine Cui, and Ameera Ebrahim
- Best Futuristic City: Plakow from Clinton Public School (Clinton) with students: Abhay Bhatt, Michael Shannon, and Andrew Tota
- Best Economy: Aquaponic Island from Heritage Middle School (Livingston) with students: Nicole Vindicci, Izzy Freschi, and Karina Maholtra
- Best Planning Practices: Citta d'Acqua from Clifton T. Barkalow Middle School (Freehold) with students: Karim Lakhani, Stephen Crafton-Tempel, Nelson Lin, and Max Lieberman
- Most Creative Use of Materials: Luna City, The Moon from Doane Academy (Burlington) with students: JT Thompson, Taylor Ward, Joshua Farkas, and Jayson O'Connell
- Most Environmentally Friendly City: Kubah Kota from HW Mountz School (Spring Lake, NJ) with students: Michael Dora, Ainslie Hackett, Isabella Matuch, and Caroline Kraus
- Most Innovative Design of Infrastructure Systems: ANFF - All Natural Future Farmers from Sparta Middle School (Sparta) with students: Kyle Neuwirth, Thomas Trela, Jason Collis, and Jonathan Bollard
- Best Use of Engineering Principles: Amida from Valley View School (Watchung) with students: Azade Modaressi, Yajur Sriraman, and Jeremy Cui
- Most Organized City: Sain from Valley View School (Watchung) with students: Charlie Margulies, Tristan Sampedro, Olivia Volpe, and Abigail Langer
- Most Sustainable Food Production: Rivier Stad from Clinton Public School (Clinton) with students: Katie Carney, and FrankieRae Nolf
- Best Land Surveying: Defrand from Hoboken Charter School (Hoboken) with students: Andie Martin, Delaney Hartigan, and Francesca Burgos
- Best Transportation System: Omnivoria from St. Rose of Lima (Short Hills) with students: Clare Buckley, Audrey Perry, and Adam Majmudar