Young engineering teams take honors in Future City competition

by CECILIA DRISCOLL
Thu, Mar 6th 2014 11:00 am

Imagine a superlative city, then research and write a description of it. Design a model and then present and defend your city before a professional panel.

A daunting task for seasoned engineers, this was the goal of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students in the Western New York Regional Future City Competition held at Mount St. Mary Academy in Tonawanda on Jan. 25.

Sixteen teams participated in the competition with eight of them from Catholic schools. St. Mary School in Swormville finished fourth. St. Francis of Assisi School in Tonawanda, two-time regional winner, took second place honors.

Pat Trimper, teacher mentor of the St. Francis of Assisi team, was this year's program coordinator. As a science teacher about 20 years ago, Trimper saw a pamphlet, went to a meeting about the Future Cities competition, and has been involved ever since. When regional participation was threatened last year, she worked with coordinator Bonnie Rizzo from St. Mary's to keep the competition here.

Future City is an initiative of the National Engineers Week Foundation. Enhancing state and national standards, it provides opportunity and motivation for 33,000 students around the nation to develop real-life skills in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

"For us, it's also STREAM," Trimper said, "because we put religion into it. Catholic schools have always been active in it. It's way too good to drop. It takes a ton of time, but it is such a good experience for the kids. When I work with the kids at St. Francis, I just watch them grow."

Each year, a different focus is assigned. This year's theme was "Tomorrow's Transit: Design a Way to Move People in and Around your City." The St. Francis team designed a three-layer city based on a future Rio de Janeiro, and named it O-Rio. In O-Rio, industry moves through tunnels underground, pedestrians walk around at ground level, and the upper level, the atmosphere, allows for fast transport.

St. Mary School designed Futurum Enituit (The Future Looks Bright) based on an imagined San Diego, in 2269. The main method of transit in Futurum Enituit is a personal vehicle worn on the belt, powered by hydrogen fuel, which expands into a hover bubble, called a hubbub.

Catholic schools participating in the competiton included Nativity of Our Lord in Orchard Park; St. Peter in Lewiston; SS. Peter and Paul in Hamburg; St. Christopher in Tonawanda, and St. Mark in Buffalo. Local business sponsors, focusing on specific engineering or teamwork themes, present regional awards on essay and design. Regional first place teams go on to the national competition in Washington, D.C., as Trimper's team has done twice.

Meeting after school and on Saturdays, the St. Francis team of 15 students got started in September, picking up the pace in November and December, meeting deadlines along the way. Trimper enjoys working with lead teacher Pat Misso and engineer Mark Bajorek to ensure that the students are well prepared.

"Everybody's got an engineer mentor," Trimper said. "They do quite a bit of work with the kids, and teach them the fundamentals of engineering, and guide them through it. He's phenomenal to work with."

The project involves much more than science and technology. An essay of 1,000 words is one challenge, and Trimper said students are surprised and proud of what they accomplish.

"The first thing I start working on with them is to learn how to talk in front of people," Trimper said. "Our kids are so ready. They sound polished."

Another thing students learn is time management. This is especially important for three members of the team.

"How do we do all this, and how do we get our stuff in on deadline?" Trimper said. "There's a lot of responsibility for them because they have to write, and practice, and revise a presentation. They've got between three and five minutes to explain their city to the judges. Then the judges have seven minutes to ask them questions, and you never know what they are going to ask."

"The competition at Mount St. Mary's is the culmination of all their hard work," Trimper said. "We tell the kids, they're not going to win anything if they don't show teamwork and good sportsmanship. And that's tough for seventh- and eighth-graders on a day that they're all stressed out."

Trimper considers participation in the Future Cities competition a good experience for young people.

"They have to learn how to work on a team," she said. "That's a skill they need when they grow up. Nobody works alone. They have to learn to appreciate each other's work, and they have to learn to accept that what they want isn't what's picked. That's all part of what they need when they get a job."

Trimper said the benefits offered by the Future Cities competition should make more schools consider taking part in the program.

"I love watching the kids grow doing this," Trimper said. "If it wasn't really good, I wouldn't do it, because it takes a whole lot of time. If any school is not doing it, they should contact us."  

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