LIVINGSTON, NJ — Three members of the Heritage Middle School (HMS) FemGineers, the school's all-female engineering club, are heading to Las Vegas in March to participate in the Future City STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Design Competition after placing second overall at the regional competition in January.
Each year, participating students are required to research, design and build cities of the future that showcase their solution to a citywide sustainability issue, such as urban agriculture, green energy and more. Focusing on this year's competition theme, "Clean Water: Tap Into Tomorrow," competing teams selected a threat to their city's water supply and designed "a resilient system to maintain a reliable supply of clean drinking water."
Livingston students Avery Weiner, Poorva Gopal and Nandini Aggarwal and their city, Lago Paraiso, earned second-place overall at the New Jersey Regional Future City Design Competition at Rutgers University, qualifying them for an all-expenses-paid trip to present their designs in Las Vegas next month.
Fellow FemGineers Shining Wang, Carolyn Zhou and Ashley Peng were also impressive at the regional competition, winning first place in the “Best Use of Engineering Principles” category for their city, Elysium.
Faculty advisor and HMS technology teacher Kenneth Zushma explained that the HMS FemGineers Club was created “accidentally” in 2007 while he was encouraging students to sign up for a contest. When he placed two sheets of paper on a table for interested students to sign, one of those papers came back to him with a list consisting of only girls’ names.
“They embraced the concept, and it has been that way ever since,” said Zushma. “Over the years, we have had several success stories of our members going into the engineering fields. Last year, one was honored at the Future City Design Challenge as Alumae of the Year.”
Zushma added that Livingston resident Ed Bier, a project manager for Dewberry, has been a long-time Engineer Mentor for the HMS FemGineers, who participate in the co-ed Future City Design Competition every year and even came away with first place overall in 2015.
He added that the club members also conceptualize other projects to work on each year in addition to the Future City Design Challenge and that many students have presented those projects at various events.
Zushma recalled one standout invention called “Brailing,” which was designed for visually impaired people so that they could “get information on where they were with a guide railing,” he said.
“Future City has always been the best fit,” Zushma said of the competition. “It is a great combination of research (they need to write an essay), design, art, engineering and presentation skills.”
One HMS FemGineer alumna who is currently practicing STEM professionally is Julie McEldoon, who is currently employed at the Engineered Solutions Research & Development co-op between Stevens Institute of Technology and Johnson & Johnson.
In 2018, McEldoon returned to HMS to share her real-world engineering experience with current students. She and her team conducted a workshop, where they demonstrated how the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) utilizes prototypes to undergo a variety of tests prior to approving a product.
During McEldoon’s presentation, the HMS students tested a Neutrogena light therapy mask and also designed an iPhone app that included instructions.
FemGineers is one of many ways that HMS encourages students to become more involved in STEM.
What started with only 10 students has evolved into a club with more than 60 members—many of whom have emerged as role models to other female students who are curious about STEM.
HMS reports that math scores and standardized test scores have improved as a result of the students’ growing interest in STEM, and there has also been an increase in the number of female students taking higher-level math and science levels at the high school.