Piscataway, NJ - An earthquake, hurricane, or flood is threatening to cripple the infrastructure of a bustling urban metropolis. The energy grid could be devastated for days, weeks, or even months. The governors of three states have declared a state of emergency.

Can we ever prevent scenarios like the one above? Can we actually build resilient cities of the future that can weather all forms of natural disaster? Middle school students from across New Jersey and the nation were asked to imagine, research, design, and prototype cities of the future and showcase their solutions in a STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) project competition called Future City, sponsored by the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers).

On Saturday, January 19th, three teams of students from Frelinghuysen Middle School (FMS) in Morristown joined peers from 80 project teams that descended upon the Rutgers Livingston campus, where just one team would emerge to represent New Jersey in the National Future City competition, to be held in Washington, D.C. in February. This year’s winning city of “Kaifukuryoku” was created by a team of students affiliated with the JerseySTEM program, a state-wide program for youth interested in STEM-related fields. Nationally, close to 40,000 students from over 1,300 schools are competing.

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Frelinghuysen school students garnered two awards - a second place overall finish and an award for “Most Resilient City.”

This was the 27th anniversary of the Future City competition, although it was only the third year of participation for FMS. The theme of this year’s competition was “The Resilient City” which asked students to identify a possible natural disaster scenario that would threaten a city’s energy grid and offer two innovative solutions to mitigate the
impact.

Each Future City team submitted five deliverables: a Virtual City design (using SimCity software), a 1,500-word City Essay, a scaled City Model, a Project Plan, and a seven-
minute City Presentation skit. Each project component was judged by professional engineers using detailed scoring rubrics.

With the assistance of thementor engineers, FMS held their own run-off competition earlier in the month between thirteen 7th and 8th grade teams. After a spirited competition, the following three teams earned the trip to the regional showcase: Jeemm: Mary Gillen, Jessica Mobus, Elizabeth Gillen, Elise Hinrichs, Michelle Lee
Ovink: Ashley Gregor, Matt McDonald, Zach Diringer, Jayde Coache, Bharat Venkatesh, Conrad Crawford Waterloo: Eser Tanelli, Andrew Qvotrup, Victoria Joel, Allison Forsell, Caitlin Hassan, Angelissa Gutierrez, Emma Collins

Team Jeemm (pronounced “Gem” - an acronym of the girls’ first names) shocked themselves with a second place finish, creating a futuristic version of the Ukrainian city,
Dnipro.

“It was no surprise to me,” stated teacher-coach Bruce Chamberlain. “The girls spent four out of every five lunchtimes in my room, not to mention countless hours on
weekends tweaking their essay, physical model, and presentation. Each of the FMS project teams encountered the very same challenges, technical and interpersonal, that professional project teams encounter everyday. In the end, ‘group hugs’ were the outcome!”

Along with the accolades, the team brought home an $800 grand prize to be used at FMS to purchase STEM project related items.

Elizabeth Gillen of Team Jeemm stated, “This project took a lot of planning and team work. We had to complete many tasks and collaborate to make our city futuristic and
successful in the project. We were so excited when we (won the Frelinghuysen competition and) made it to the regional competition. We changed many things and
headed to Rutgers feeling confident. We received a second place finish, something we never expected. It was an amazing experience!”

“The journey and experience was amazing and I can't wait to do it again next year", echoed Michelle Lee for the squad of 7th graders,

Team Ovink won a special prestigious award for “Most Resilient City.” Ovink was prototyped to be the new city of Hoboken 100 years in the future, and was designed to
mitigate potentially catastrophic events, such as another Superstorm Sandy.

Ashley Gregor, lead designer of Ovink innovative flood control and diversion system commented “What I’ve gathered from the research I have conducted on floods, is that
we cannot prevent them from occurring, but we can prepare to lessen the impact thatthey bring.”

Ovink had won the intramural competition at FMS back in December.

Angelissa Guiterrez of Team Waterloo probably summed up the thoughts of all the competitors best “I have to admit, this project was probably one of the most stressful and chaotic things we've done, but after all the meetings, the late nights, and the obstacles our group faced, it was all worth it in the end. Future City not only teaches you
about engineering, group work, and the difficulties of building a city, but it teaches you to believe that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. It was a great experience
and it really made us all closer friends".

Without support from the local engineering community, the program would not be possible.

“Our engineering mentor, Andy Hipolit of Maser Consulting, a national engineering design firm headquartered in Red Bank, has been with us for all three years
and has been a wellspring of expertise for our teams. Andy recruited engineers from his firm and, together with Dipti Sheth from AmerCom in Parsippany and Vanessa
Lanamann and Pooja Murali from Louis Berger in Morristown, helped us to create our own version of the regional competition for the thirteen FMS teams,” Chamberlain said.

Future City, a program of DiscoverE (Discover Engineering), is one of the nation’s leading engineering education programs and has received national recognition and
acclaim for its role in encouraging middle schoolers to develop their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The DiscoverE mission is to sustain and
grow a dynamic engineering profession through outreach, education, celebration, and volunteerism.

Learn more at FutureCity.org and DiscoverE.org.

 

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