Family Day, Future City 20th Anniversaries Highlight EWeek Activities in Nation’s Capital

By Chris McManes

What is now known as Discover Engineering Family Day began in 1993, and first attracted about 200 people. Fast forward to 16 February 2013–the event’s 20th anniversary–and the National Building Museum welcomed 9,098 visitors.

The past three Family Days have attracted the three largest crowds in the event’s history, including a Building Museum one-day record of 13,994, in 2011. The festival is geared toward promoting engineering and technological literacy to 4- to 12-year-olds and includes, among others, their parents, teachers and scout troops.

“Family Day is such a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the engineering profession,” said Scott Kratz, the Building Museum’s vice president for education, “Kids, teens and parents can learn how engineers are making the world a better place through engaging, hands-on activities. Many of the visitors who participated in this year’s festival will be the next generation of civil, electrical, or mechanical engineers.”

Family Day was one of the major activities IEEE-USA participated in during Engineers Week in February. Festival attendance has been boosted the past four years by preview stories that aired on the FOX 5 Morning News.

IEEE-USA helped found Family Day when the organization first served as lead society of Engineers Week, and has been one of the event’s major sponsors for years.

At IEEE-USA’s Family Day exhibit, Washington-area IEEE members Monica Mallini, Wally Lee and Bill Kennedy demonstrated what kind of materials conduct electricity, the energy efficiency of three different light bulbs, and how electrical engineers balance electricity supply and demand through Smart Grid software from National Instruments in Austin, Texas.


“I was struck by the awe of being surrounded by a sea of families and children building, building, building everywhere,” Mallini said. “In every corner of that giant room, people were on the floor, standing up, crowded around the tables, their designs coming alive in their hands.”

“It was amazing.”

Future City Competition

Family Day is one of two legacy projects that began during IEEE-USA’s 1992-93 EWeek leadership role, joining the Future City Competition. An engineering design contest for middle school students, Future City celebrated its 20th anniversary with the National Finals at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Va.

The event, which attracted 36 regional championship-winning teams, returns to Washington, D.C., next year. About 35,000 children, including, for the first time, members of civic organizations, participated.

“For IEEE-USA to have launched these events is something we can always be proud of,” said former IEEE-USA Communications Director Pender McCarter, who helped get the event off the ground.

IEEE-USA volunteer Murty Polavarapu presented two awards at the Future City National Finals. Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School of Willow Grove, Pa.–the Philadelphia regional champion–won third place, and will receive a $2,000 scholarship from IEEE-USA for its science and technology program.


St. Bede School of Pittsburgh, which captured the Pittsburgh regional championship in January, won the 13th IEEE-USA Best Communications System award. Polavarapu also judged this portion of the competition.

During the Future City finals’ preliminary judges’ meeting, Chicago Regional Coordinator Don Wittmer joked about how impressed the first-time judges likely would be by the 11- to 13-year- old competitors.

“I know they’re smarter than I was at that age,” Wittmer said, “and they’re probably smarter than I am now.”

Spearheaded by IEEE-USA in 1992-93, Future City is an engineering design competition for middle school students. Under the guidance of an engineer and teacher, children create their own vision of a city of tomorrow, working first on SimCity software and then constructing a scale model. The activity also includes an essay about a predetermined challenge the city might face.

“If it wasn’t for IEEE, we probably wouldn’t have the Future City Competition,” Wittmer said. “We thank them for that.”

New Face of Engineering

Maria Vlachopoulou, an engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash., was honored as the IEEE/IEEE-USA New Face of Engineering–Professional Edition. The program, sponsored by the National Engineers Week Foundation, highlights the vitality, diversity and rich contributions of engineers under 30.

Vlachopoulou is developing new tools to more effectively incorporate renewable energy sources such as wind and solar into our nation’s electric grid. Her research interests are in power systems, statistical and mathematical modeling and system optimization. The increased efficiency, security and two-way communication of our nation’s electricity delivery system characterizes Smart Grid.

“Maria’s breakthrough work in computer algorithms and mathematical methods help transition the U.S. power grid to a more efficient and robust system,” IEEE Richland Section Chair David McKinnon said in his nomination letter. “For the nation, this impacts two national priorities–improving long-term energy security through reducing dependence on foreign sources of oil, and addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

In addition to her technical achievements, Vlachopoulou volunteers to promote the profession. She is a member of the IEEE Power & Energy Society, IEEE Signal Processing Society and Society of Women Engineers. She is founding chair of the Richland Section Women in Engineering affinity group, vice-chair of the section’s Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) affinity group and assistant coordinator of the FIRST LEGO League annual tournament in the Tri-Cities, Wash., area.

She and 12 other young engineers were featured in a full-page Engineers Week ad that ran in USA Today.

NAE Honors Cell Phone Pioneers

IEEE Life Fellows Dr. Joel Engel, Richard Frenkiel and Martin Cooper shared the Charles Stark Draper Prize with Dr. Thomas Haug and Dr. Yoshihisa Yokumura on 19 February for their “pioneering contributions to the world’s first cellular telephone networks, systems, and standards.” They were honored by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Cooper conceived the idea of a portable cell phone thirty years ago, while working as general manager of Motorola’s Communications Systems Division. He is credited for placing the first cell phone call-to Engel–to a landline phone at Bell Labs in New Jersey. According to a 20 February Motorola news release:

 “Standing on Sixth Avenue in New York City, before going into a press conference, Cooper famously placed this groundbreaking call using a Motorola DynaTAC–a device that weighed 2.2 lbs., had 35 minutes of talk-time, and a battery life of 20 minutes, all of which was revolutionary at the time.”

The Draper Prize is widely regarded as the Nobel Prize for engineering.

EWeek 2014

IEEE-USA and DuPont will team up with the EWeek Foundation to lead EWeek 2014 activities. IEEE-USA President Marc Apter met with DuPont officials at their Wilmington, Del., headquarters in January. Kristi Hummel, hardware group manager for National Instruments, chairs the IEEE-USA EWeek 2014 Planning Committee. The group first met in December 2011.

Details of the programs DuPont and IEEE-USA will launch or enhance will begin emerging in April.

Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager.


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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