Each year, students from more than 1,000 schools register to compete in the National Engineers Week Future City Competition. The stereotype of engineering as a man’s job may finally be going the way of the slide rule. Since 2000, roughly half the entrants have been female.
| Student winners, from left: Alannah Pratt, Max Showalter and Emily Duffield.
(Photo courtesy of Ben Zweig/DCEventphoto)
In both 2004 and 2005, all-girl teams won the competition. Maybe we’re finally getting beyond gender issues: this year’s winning team included a boy and two girls. Emily Duffield, 13, Alannah Pratt, 14, and Max Showalter, 13, are all students at Chippewa Middle School in Shoreview, Minn.
The 8th grade students learned about the contest in a bulletin at school. The competition invites middle school students to design, model, write and present their visions of the future. While working with an engineer mentor over the course of a three-month period, the young prospective engineers create and design their future cities. Currently, the program reaches 30,000 7th and 8th grade students annually through a network of 7,500 volunteers.
“We started in five cities across the country,” says Carol Reig, national director of the competition. “Today we are in 39 U.S.-based regions and have three international pilot programs in Japan, Egypt and Sweden.”
The regional finalists continue on to the national finals in Washington, D.C., during National Engineers Week in February.
“It sounded like fun (so) we decided to try it out,” Showalter says.
With the help of teacher Nancy Roussin and engineer mentor Stefan Gantert of the Rice County Highway Dept., the winning students created the city of Joukai, which means heaven in Japanese. Joukai included a transportation system of underground tunnels and Hotel Eden, a resort that changed climates throughout its premises, creating the illusion of traveling to different parts of the world.
“You could go to Africa without leaving your town,” Pratt says.
Duffield, Pratt and Showalter enjoyed the competition, particularly the national finals. “Going to Washington, D.C., was fun,” says Duffield. “It was fun to see what other people’s cities were like.”
“They have presentation skills, they know their science, (and they’re) confident,” Donald Lehr, public relations consultant for the competition, says of the girls who compete. “These skills are really paying off.”
Over 225,000 service hours are donated nationally to the program each year. Supporters view the competition as a “work force initiative to help future generations of engineers to see engineering contributions they can make as professionals,” says Reig.
The winning team wins a weeklong trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., during summer vacation.