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Students compete in Future City Competition

Thu, Mar 1, 2012

Jacori Garrett, Lauryn Hill and Gregory Mcaffee, seventh graders at Miles Davis Academy in West Englewood, stand anxiously next to a three-dimensional model of the city they call Voltville. Constructed mostly of recycled bottles and canisters painted in bright shades of orange and purple, their city features innovative technologies including solar energy panels, urban rooftop gardens, a salt tower to produce steam for water distribution, mobile roads for electric cars and buses, and aquaponic systems for growing plants and food on water.

“We had to first come up with a name. So it had to be related in some way to electricity and normally when you think of electricity voltage comes to mind, so we came up with the name Voltville,” explained Garrett. “Then we had to build a city on SimCity 4 and that kind of gave us an idea of what it would be like to run a city.”

Voltville placed fifth out of 15 entries in this year’s Future City Competition, a prelude to National Engineers Week. This year the competition focused on the theme of sustainability and renewable resources. Many of these teams also had professional engineer mentors who spent time working with the kids and giving advice for their designs. Though the Miles Davis team did not have a mentor, the school features the city’s first children’s engineering program, opened in 2008, with an emphasis on science, math and technology. Through this program, the creators of Voltville learned the principal concepts of aquaponics on a class field trip.

“Aquaponic is when you grow plants on water. And instead of watering them daily they are already growing on water so they are getting vitamins and minerals,” explained Garrett, as he displayed the areas in their city allotted for this process to the judges. “And there are fish in the water that give off nitrates that turn into nitrites and then the nitrites turn into food for the plants.”

Future City Competition encouraged seventh and eighth graders to explore the field of engineering through firsthand experiences by creating a digital city using SimCity 4, writing research papers about how they integrated sustainable concepts into their city, and constructing a final three-dimensional model of the city. Other forms of alternative energy the students explored included geothermal energy, hydroelectricity, wind turbines, and nuclear power.

“I find it fascinating what the kids are learning because I remember back when I was that age I did not know any of the things they are learning,” said Melissa Kennedy, a professional engineer and judge involved with the program for the past 15 years. “I think it gives them a broader perspective of potential careers in the future. They’re getting an idea of what different careers and fields actual are.”

For the students at Miles Davis Academy, this competition offered a first step towards potential career goals in engineering. The innovations and ideas integrated into their future city may offer a glimpse into the real future of the planet, as sustainability becomes increasingly more vital for preserving valuable and limited resources.

“I think as myself, a civil engineer, it is important for all of us to educate the kids and show them what we are doing to help the planet and solve a problem and keep the cost down,” said Frank Avila, the head judge and a Metropolitan Water Reclamation district commissioner. “In 10 years from now when they get out of school they will have new ideas for how to use alternate energy. Not only here in Chicago, but throughout the world because our kids who are growing up here in the United States are going to be competing against the whole world.”

Written by Ann Wanserski
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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