Solving environmental problems with model cities

By Corene Brisendine

Throngs of sixth, seventh and eighth graders gathered in Rathbone Hall on Saturday for an annual engineering competition that challenges students’ imaginations and creativity by building model cities that solve current environmental problems.

This year, 34 schools participated in the regional Future City Competition at Kansas State University. Middle schools from across Kansas, parts of Missouri and one school from Colorado presented their work to experts in the field of engineering. (No Manhattan students participated.) After a morning of preliminary rounds, the final five presenters stood on stage in Forum Hall and gave their presentations to a panel of judges and their peers.

Members of the winning team, “Manh Me Re” city from Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colo., were nervous about living up to their teacher’s past wins and their new competition.

“I didn’t know what to expect until we got in the top five,” said Allie Goulding, presenter on Manh Me Re. “Once we got into the top five, I was pretty sure we would be in the top three, but there were some really good teams.”

Andrew Mangold, second presenter of team Manh Me Re, said when they were walking around Saturday morning they saw other models that rivaled their own.

Although they said they made more mistakes during their stage presentation than they would have liked, they were relieved to take first place.

Prior to this year, Deer Creek had participated in the regional competition in Denver. That didn’t happen this year because the Denver competition “fell apart” Sims said. But he said the Denver region will probably regroup and host again in the near future.

Jacquie Adkins, teacher for the Deer Creek teams, said she has been entering her students in the competition for the past 10 years.

“There are only about three schools involved in Denver,” Adkins said. “So, I usually take 10 teams of three, but this year I brought three teams of 10.”

Sims said organizers limited the number of teams because the number of schools each year has consistently grown. He said this year the competition included 18 new teams from across the region, and historically half would come back the next year.

Along with Manh Me Re taking first place, her other teams took other awards as well. “Dahn Thuc Vung Bien” took Best Written Communication Award and “Lam Moi Dong Chay” took the Sustainability in Transportation Award.

In total, 18 awards were presented Saturday afternoon. Some were region-specific awards like the KU and KSU awards, and some were national awards that included $200 and $300 technology grants.

There are three parts to the competition: a research essay over that year’s engineering topic, a computerized version of the city, and a scale model of the futuristic city. This year’s topic was storm water pollution control, so the projects focused on water filtration and erosion prevention. While that was the main focus, the cities also had to keep with the overall aspect of going green and conservation of natural resources. So the model cities also had futuristic forms of transportation and alternative energy sources, and many touted “green” roofs on their houses.

The teams typically start at the beginning of the school year and work on the projects until the regional competition in January. The winner moves on to nationals, which takes place in February during National Engineering Week in Washington D.C. Last year, President Barack Obama made an appearance at the competition, which was hosted inside the White House.

The American Society of Civil Engineers organized the competition. Sims said 60 judges from local and regional engineering firms and Kansas Department of Transportation participated in this year’s competition. K-State and KU take turns hosting the competition and have been doing so for eight years.

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