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Future City Competition to showcase middle schoolers' engineering skills

Thursday, January 19, 2012
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LAWRENCE — Hundreds of middle school students will converge on the University of Kansas campus this week to showcase their versions of small-scale, environmentally friendly towns of tomorrow and compete for a trip to Washington, D.C.

The Great Plains Region Future City Competition is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Kansas Union. Forty-six teams from 28 middle schools and junior highs in Kansas and Missouri will participate in the annual competition, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and hosted by the KU School of Engineering. The focus this year is on designing a city with alternative energy sources, centered around the theme of “Fuel Your Future.” The challenge for teams is to choose one alternative energy source and design a way to generate electric power for their city that does not deplete natural resources and has limited impact on the environment.

Student teams work under the guidance of a teacher and a volunteer engineer mentor to design and build their city of tomorrow. They create cities on computers using the SimCity 4 Deluxe software and then build three-dimensional, tabletop models to scale. Teams are judged in five categories. Three of those – virtual city design, research essay and city narrative – are submitted and evaluated before competition day. When teams arrive on campus for the Future City Competition, they are evaluated on their physical, small-scale model city and team presentation.

More than 120 people will help judge the entries for the Future City Competition. The five highest ranking teams at the end of the event will present their projects to the full group. The team with the top score advances to Future City National Finals, Feb. 17–22, in Washington, D.C.

“There’s a lot of different aspects with problem solving, teamwork and learning how things interact together in a system. There’s pretty much every engineering component involved in this competition, it’s not just solving math problems,” said Jeff Sims, coordinator of the Great Plains Region Future City Competition.

Sims, an ASCE member and engineer with the Kansas Department of Transportation, said the competition not only forces teams to find solutions to theoretical problems but prepares students for real world engineering challenges they might encounter down the road.

“Their understanding of engineering concepts is so advanced for their age, it’s remarkable,” Sims said. “It’s great to see kids learning these concepts at such a young age.”

Chris Hermreck, project manager with JE Dunn Construction, will deliver the keynote address for the Future City Competition. Hermreck will speak about sustainability and energy-saving methods in construction, including his involvement with the KU School of Engineering’s newest facility, the Measurement, Materials and Sustainable Environment Center, currently under construction.

The public is invited to tour the model cities during the event and be a member of the audience during the finalist presentations and awards ceremony in the afternoon. The Great Plains Regional competition takes place each January, alternating between the campuses of KU and Kansas State University.


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