The future is so bright...

The 2010 Philadelphia (Regional) Future City Competition took place at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall in Philadelphia on January 23. 36 teams of mostly seventh- and eighth-graders from schools in the region entered, and the competition was intense. The theme this year was a city that had affordable living spaces for people who lost their homes due to disasters or financial emergencies (a timely theme given the natural disaster in Haiti, although the project theme was actually presented in 2009).

This year, I had the privilege of being one of preliminary judges -- several of my colleagues were also involved in the essay, preliminary, and special awards judging and our own Bhupinder Singh was one of the finals judges. Bentley gave two Computer Usage Special Awards this year. The preliminaries and special awards judging of the entries took place in the morning and from that, the finalists were selected. The teams were "graded" on various aspects of the project, including an essay (written by each team), the physical model of the city (for dimensions, creativity, accuracy and scale, infrastructure, a moving part component, attractiveness, and use of recycled materials), and team presentation of the city design (specifically regarding delivery of the presentation, knowledge, and cooperation). After each presentation, the teams were asked various questions about how the concepts were formulated, what technical research was done, how the model was built, how the team worked together, etc. The finals presentations and Q&A were done in front of an audience of about 200, including the team's peers.

After all the judging was done, the points were tallied and the winner was announced. For 2010, the Philadelphia Future City winner is (drum roll please...) Our Lady Help of Christians. Their entry "Nauru, A Paradise Found" next competes with winners from many other regional competitors in the national finals during National Engineers Week, February 14-20, 2010. The Future City Competition national finals will be held Washington, DC and the winning team will be announced immediately following the national finals.

Just as past years that I have been involved with this competition, I was truly amazed seeing what some of these 7th and 8th graders did. The project takes quite a bit to do, from original specification to design to implementation to presentation to Q&A in front of hundreds of others. Regardless of how the teams did in the competition, they learned the value of seeing their project through to completion. The competition covered many of the fundamental science, technology, and math skills that are learned at this grade level, but Future City also brought those fundamentals together by providing an introduction to different types of engineering -- from civil to electrical, chemical to mechanical, and beyond. It also involved skills such as writing, public speaking, teamwork, compromise, time management, problem solving, and computer skills. Above all, I could tell that they had fun since it allowed them to use their imaginations and remain committed to solving the challenges that they encountered.

This was the 15th year that the competition was held. If you are interested in helping inspire the engineers of tomorrow and learn more about Future City (including volunteering and mentoring), visit the national and regional Web sites.