Future City challenge sparks Stanislaus County middle-school minds

naustin@modbee.comJanuary 16, 2014 

They came from all over – exotic spots such as Zasabchamaklen, Himapia and Magneto – to make their pitch. Their cities have it all: free universities, organic farms, plentiful water and, above all, efficient and eco-friendly transportation.

Utopia (also an entry) existed for 12 brief, shining moments at the Petersen Event Center on Wednesday night as a dozen Stanislaus County teams showed off their innovative Future City models.

“This contest is so relevant for our middle school students. It helps them get connected to a future career that is within their grasp,” said master of ceremonies Tom Changnon, Stanislaus County superintendent of schools.

Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders researched the issues, designed the cities, wrote papers describing problems solved by their designs, built scale models and served as well-rehearsed pitchmen.

“I made them practice 100 times,” confided Evangelina Paoluccio, engineer mentor for a second year with Girl Scout Troop 2225. “(Mentoring) is a lot of time, but I wanted to change someone’s life. I want them to think back when they’re 40 and remember, ‘When I was 13, I did that, and I did a good job,’ ” she said.

The Scouts did do a good job, capturing top honors with a smooth presentation about Varuna, an oceanfront city powered by wave action, guarded by drones, and supported by sales of sea salt beauty products and Girl Scout sea salt cookies.

“We really thought about plausible, creative ideas that made sense and worked, too,” said Kiana Engel, a presenter for the Girl Scout team, which won the state competition last year. Becoming an engineer is probably not in her future, Kiana said, “but it definitely opened my eyes to what engineers do.”

Teammate Madison Whisenand, a first-time presenter, said she gained a lot of confidence through the contest. “I liked working on my public speaking. It was good practice,” Madison said.

Three members of each team were presenters, explaining their engineering marvels. Walking along roads in Epiron generates electricity. Trains whoosh through supercharged vacuum tubes in Bymum.

“Brain trains” hook autopiloted cars together to share energy in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, explained Aiden Sulak and Isaac Walters, members of one of the four teams La Loma Junior High had in the contest.

La Loma teacher Lee Ollar coached all four. “They came up with such different ideas. Totally different concepts,” Ollar said after the competition. The hardest part for him, he said, was going from group to group without giving anything away.

Next year, Ollar will lose his eighth-grade competitors but gain some Future City veterans from Orville Wright Elementary’s sixth-grade team.

Wrightville presenter Yuliana Magallon said she’s planning to do Future City again at La Loma. Teammate Oliber Bustos added, “Even though we lost, it was still a learning experience.”

A La Loma contestant from last year, Heryann Reyes, sat in the audience this year, cheering for two teams she mentored. Now an Enochs High freshman, Reyes said she hopes to be an architect, thanks to Future City. “I got experience presenting and I got more confidence. I got to experience designing, which I love to do. It gave me my ideas of becoming an architect,” she said.

La Loma Team 1’s city, Epiron, came in third, offering self-contained “sky city living,” water recycled through permeable concrete and vertical farming. “Ultimately, in 25 to 50 years, some of our ideas could be in use,” said presenter Eeman Khan.

In second place was Bymum (Mumbai, India, 150 years in the future), created by sixth-graders at Walnut Elementary in Turlock. Their two-level model took 23 hours to build, said presenter Sean Bernard, who plans to be an engineer.

“I’ve learned discipline skills, meeting with others, cooperative and leadership skills, and responsibility,” Sean said as fellow presenters Dion Skaria and Edward Yaco chimed in. The trio spent lunches, breaks and math time together for the past three weeks practicing their presentation, making up math lessons online.

Among the judges was two-time Future City Nationals finalist Riley Noland. “I had such a great experience,” Noland said. “Future City covers a very broad area – math, science, engineering – but it hits every specific skills area of what you want to do in life,” he said.

He competed for Hart-Ransom School. Now a Modesto High sophomore, Noland gave teams tips on what they will face at the regional finals, coming up Jan. 25 in San Jose.

Find more on the Future City engineering competition at http://futurecity.org. This year’s theme is “Tomorrow’s Transit.” Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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