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Middle school students reimagine sustainable cities of tomorrow

Juwel City team
February 04, 2015

Imagine going to the roof of your building to gather your daily vegetables from the sustainable aquaponic garden. Then, after a day of work, visiting your community’s relaxation center to wind down and reduce stress.

This is just one city created by middle school students who participated in the 2015 Arizona Regional Future City Competition on Jan. 16 at Arizona State University.

The annual national Future City Competition, an initiative of DiscoverE to promote engineering careers to young learners, joins volunteer engineering professionals with middle school students and their teachers. The teams design and develop cities in SimCity software and then bring them to life in tabletop prototypes made with recycled materials.

This year’s theme, “Feeding Future Cities,” asked the teams to design cities that provided one protein and one vegetable source for inhabitants.

ASU’s Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, honored five teams with Walton Sustainable Community Awards for their application of community health and civic design.

The teams worked for four months programming their city in SimCity, sourcing recycled materials for the model and crafting their city’s narrative.

“Winning the Walton Sustainable Community Award made my team and I feel relieved and happy to see that all the extra hours after and during winter break at school paid off,” said Atziry Palomarez, a student in the Patria Verntia team. “We spent many hours perfecting our essay, model and presentation, and all that hard work and dedication showed us that many things can be accomplished.”

In addition to applying engineering, sustainability and science lessons, the students also developed life skills. Conducting the presentations in front of regional judges provided a warm-up for future presentations the young students may eventually give in the workforce.

“I learned to not let my nerves get to me during presentations,” said Megan Tarajcak, a member of the Leben Stadt team. “Once my teammates reassured me that we were going to be fine, I felt better and could remember my lines. If you just believe in yourself, and you’re confident about all your hard work, you will do much better.”

Some students want to become architects and designers after using SimCity and building the model cities.

“When I grow up, I would like to be a video game designer or a graphic designer because I find it interesting and I feel like I have talents working with computers and technology,” said Yesenia Moreno from the Patria Virentia team.

“I think it would be cool to be an architect when I grow up because while doing this project, I really enjoyed building our city,” said Ana Hoppes from the Juwel team. “My favorite part of building the city was seeing the different shapes we could make the buildings look like.”

Most of all, the competition taught the students to think outside the box to find solutions to a problem.

“I learned you have to be out there and let your mind go wild because you are creating a city of the future, where many of the things in your model haven’t even been built yet,” said Palomarez. “Ideas are combined to make one innovative city.”

The winning teams are:

“Juwel” City Team
Savannah Shelabarger, Isabel Younicutt, Ana Hoppes
Shannon Hull, teacher
Desert Wind Middle School, Maricopa, Arizona

“Leben Stadt” City Team
Janae Redmond, Megan Tarajcak, Paris Diaz
Jackie Nichols, teacher
Irene Ogata, engineer
Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School, Tucson, Arizona

“Emerald City” Team
Malia Dills, Raven Peters, Kaile Dills
Mary McBride, teacher
Claire Antaya, engineer
Mohave Middle School, Scottsdale, Arizona

“Patria Virentia” City Team
Maraya Carpio, Yesenia Moreno, Atziry Palomarez
Jackie Nichols, teacher
Irene Ogata, engineer
Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School, Tucson, Arizona

“MarSol” City Team
Jeremy Graunke, Natalie Crisci, Kaelan Lux
Kathryn Graunke, teacher
Matthew Graunke, engineer
Veritas Homeschoolers, Chandler, Arizona