NEW BRUNSWICK - Middle schoolers Aiden Bernstein, Sophia Melgarejo, Tania Mouline and Natalie Yen from Chatham, won the 2019 New Jersey state regional engineering competition Future City, held at Rutgers University this week-end. They represented JerseySTEM, a New Jersey wide organization committed to closing the gender, innovation, and opportunity gaps in STEM education, while competing against over 100 other middle school teams. This year’s victory, a first for JerseySTEM, has earned the students, their coach and their mentor a trip to Washington, D.C. to compete in the nationals on Feb. 15 and represent the state of NJ.
”Future city is an eye-opening experience and an amazing way to learn about engineering and how to cooperate with others,” said the team.
The theme of this year’s competition was Powering our Future. Teams were challenged to design a resilient power grid for the future that could withstand and quickly recover from the impacts of a natural disaster. Participants completed a virtual city design using SimCity, a 1500 word essay, a scale model built from recycled materials, a project plan and a presentation to judges at the regional competition.
Since September, the all-girls engineering team met with their coach, Judith Vihonski of Wayne, former Gifted and Talented Coordinator for the Oakland Public Schools, and their volunteer mentor, Electrical Engineer Commander Christopher Rogers from the US coast guard.
Retired engineer Robert Fincle of Westfield was the assistant coach. They also received guidance from Scott Aaronson from the Edison Electric Institute and Julie McNamara from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The championship title also came with a cash prize of $1,000 provided by PSEG. The girls decided to use this as seed money for a fundraiser focused on bringing FutureCity to JerseySTEM locations in Newark, Paterson, Dover and Elizabeth. “We would be happy to help other middle school students who don’t have the opportunity to participate in Future City,” said 2nd year participants Aiden and Tania and new team members Natalie and Sophia. They also plan the promote the program to their own school district (Chatham) so more students can participate.
Coach Vihonski of JerseySTEM has been developing the FutureCity program over the past 4 years with teams consistently ranking in the top 10 earning them the Langan Prize of innovation last year. She built on the work of engineering mentors from local companies Suez (Carol Walczyk of Chatham), Titan (Sam Hau), Celgene (Jennifer D’Emilo), Mott McDonald (Jorge Pacas), WSP (Muzamil Hussain) and Jacobs (Nicole del Monaco), who over the years introduced JerseySTEM students to engineering disciplines involved in the FutureCity projects like water filtration and bridge building.
Locally, JerseySTEM has been supported by the Chatham Jaycees and donations from many local families. JerseySTEM’s outreach afterschool program is supported by Becton Dickinson, Nokia, Dun and Bradstreet, Tata Consulting Services and additional sponsors with a proven record of supporting women in engineering and kids from underserved communities.
JerseySTEM organizes builders clubs like this one, and courses like Girls Who Code, First Robotics, Solar Sprint and other innovative programs to the middle school girls. JerseySTEM aspires to reach 25,000 girls in the communities it serves by 2025.