IEEE Members Make Major Contributions as Future City Competition Turns 25

IEEE Members Make Major Contributions as Future City Competition Turns 25
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Jean Eason became regional coordinator of the Future City Competition, North Texas Region, in 2000. Its regional champions have performed well at the National Finals. The only thing missing was a grand-prize winner.

That changed on 21 February 2017, when West Ridge Middle School of Austin, Texas, won the Finals in Washington, D.C. And because Future City now includes teams from three foreign countries, West Ridge is actually an international champion.

“We’re happy to finally make the No. 1 spot,” said Eason, of Fort Worth, Texas. She and her husband, Randy, are senior IEEE members and retired electrical engineers.

Just one year prior, the North Texas champ was one of two teams on stage when Alabama’s regional champion emerged as the grand-prize winner. That region is headed by IEEE member Sonya Dillard.

The West Ridge team was made up of on-stage students Hunter Samra, 14, Emma Tyler, 13 and Tiffany Samra, 11; teacher Carol Reese; and volunteer mentor Nick Samra, an electrical engineer at TSMC in Austin. Their futuristic town, “Sociecity,” was set in eastern Virginia in 2,067.

Students Jonny Sheffield, Dylan Deyhimi, Raunakk Chandhoke, Katelyn Yu and Orion Maher also contributed to the championship. Hunter and Tiffany Samra are Nick’s children. Nick is an IEEE member.

Future City is a transformative engineering design competition for middle school students. Most are 12- to 14-years-old. While squads typically come from public and private schools, scouting organizations and homeschoolers are also welcome. Students, working under the guidance of a teacher and engineer mentor, have to perform five major tasks:

  • Design a virtual city using SimCity⢠software
  • Build a table-top city model to scale spending less than $100 and using recycled materials
  • Write a research essay and abstract. (This year’s theme was “The Power of Public Spaces.”)
  • Complete a project plan
  • Make a seven-minute presentation before a panel of judges and answer questions about their city

Regional Success

West Ridge had to beat out more than 55 teams to win the Texas (North) regional championship in late January at the University of Texas at Arlington. Eason said the many “dedicated teachers and mentors” the student teams work with contributes to her region’s success.

“I try to keep them up to date, encouraged and motivated to keep going,” she said. “It would be very unusual for a teacher to win her first year, but if you can keep them motivated and coming back, then they’ll just climb the ladder further and further [at regionals].

“As you keep sending teams to [Washington], and they see the other best teams — they bring back those ideas and spread them around the region. So, it just kind of steamrolls.”

Eason is proud of the inroads her region has made in attracting students from inner-city and less-affluent schools.

“We’ve done pretty well,” she said. “More than 50 percent of the schools have over 30 percent of their students on assisted-lunch programs. And we have several that are much higher than that. One of our [teams is run by an] after-school program for inner-city kids.

“They started out a couple years ago and barely finished the first couple of times they competed. This year, they came in fourth in the region. I thought that was really great.”

Eason’s work impresses Future City staff members.

“Jean provides a great competition experience for the North Texas participants,” Future City Program Manager Maggie Dressel said. “She has continually increased participation in her area to become one of our largest regions.

“There are a lot of smart and talented middle schoolers in that region.”

Back to Year One

Perhaps it was fitting that IEEE members would play such a key role in the competition’s 25th-anniversary event. It was in IEEE-USA’s Washington office that the “mini-city” contest was created in 1992. The organization served as National Engineers Week (EWeek) lead society in 1993, Future City’s first year.

Mike Andrews, co-coordinator of the Arizona region, was chair of IEEE-USA’s Precollege Education Committee, at the time.

“We approved the program and championed the original budget,” Andrews recalled. “I also represented IEEE-USA on the EWeek Steering Committee.  That group accepted the competition concept as our EWeek signature program. Historically, a society’s signature program only had a one-year life.”

The first Future City Finals (17 February 1993) featured teams from five regions: Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. “Tilden Town,” representing Tilden Middle School of Rockville, Md., captured the title. Chicago is the only region to host a competition all 25 years.

From the second year on, DiscoverE has run the competition. It has grown to attract more than 40,000 participants worldwide. About 1,000 people attended the 2017 Finals at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

Program Impact

Many Future City alumni study engineering and other technical fields. Because of the performance aspect of the contest, many also go into drama and the theater arts. Kevin Milans, a student member of Tilden Town, is now an assistant professor of mathematics at West Virginia University.

A 2015-16 Future City study by Concord Evaluation Group found that:

  • 89 percent of students reported that the program “helped them appreciate all of the engineering that goes into a city.”
  • 92 percent of mentors found that their students’ “public speaking skills improved.”
  • 68 percent of students said it helped them “see themselves as engineers someday.”

DiscoverE Executive Director Leslie Collins was working as a consultant for the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1992, and helped design Future City.

“I think it still has tremendous potential,” Collins said. “We know that it’s creating engineers.”

This year, a record 43 regional championship teams converged on the nation’s capital. Thirty-seven came from the United States, three from China, two from Canada and one from Egypt.

“I think Canada’s a little bit surprised at how quickly it took off,” Collins said.

To qualify for the all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, a regional competition must have at least 20 teams.

The 2017 Finals was streamed live for the first time.

Other IEEE-USA-Sponsored Winners

IEEE-USA President Karen Pedersen, P.E. served as a judge with Maryland volunteers Jeff Friedhoffer and Steve Bonk.

The national third-place award that IEEE-USA has sponsored since 2009 went to Lionville Middle School of Exton, Pa. It will receive a $2,000 scholarship for its STEM program.

Franklin Middle School of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, won the inaugural Most Advanced Smart Grid Award. The team was recognized for best incorporating Smart Grid technologies into the safe, efficient and reliable delivery of electricity.

“They even considered a diverse mix of energy sources to produce their electricity,” said Pedersen, a retired power engineer who presented both of the IEEE-USA-sponsored awards. “We were impressed with their understanding of the Smart Grid.”

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Chris McManes, IEEE-USA public relations manager, has served as a judge and emcee at the Future City Finals. During this 25th anniversary year, he was chosen to be one of the program’s 25 Voices.

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