Future City Chicago Regional Competition: Supporting Students and the Future of STEM

Recently I had the pleasure of volunteering at the 28th annual Future City Regional Competition alongside one of my colleagues, Dan Lowery. I’ve been volunteering at this competition for about five years, and it never ceases to amaze me on how well-prepared and confident these middle school students are.

What is the Future City Competition?

The Future City Competition brings together 6th, 7th and 8th grade students to work on a team with the guidance of an educator and STEM mentors in order to address an issue that their futuristic city is facing and provide solutions on how to solve the issue. They work as a team to research, design and build a innovative solution to ensure a reliable supply of clean water.  The teams are then judged on an essay, their SimCity model, a physical model of part of the city, as well as their presentation. 

Each year, more than 40,000 students in the United States participate, with at least 1,500 schools and 40 regions. The regional winners head to the next round to compete and international teams in the Future City Finals, and the finals take place in Washington, DC. Winners of the competition get a grand prize trip to US space camp and money for STEM programming at their school.  At the Chicago event, students from Prairie Junior High School received first place this year and are headed to Washington DC for the national competition.

Kat Au and Dan Lowery

How do we make the world a better place?

Every year the theme is slightly different but everything centers around one main question: How do we improve our future cities to make the world a better place?

This year’s theme was “Clean Water: Tap Into Tomorrow.”  Teams had a variety of approaches on how to ensure their cities would have clean water. One of my favorite solutions approached using algae as a form of desalination while other teams enlisted the use of UV rays to ensure clean water. It was incredible seeing the creativity behind the solutions as well as the ability of middle school students to give a presentation. 

OMEGA’s Participation in Future City

Dan and I participated in the competition this year as judges for the physical model and presentations at the Illinois Regional Competition at University of Illinois at Chicago. This year the competition was relatively evenly split between girls and boys, which is exciting progress for women and girls in STEM.

It’s awesome to see this diverse future of engineering coming forward with ideas, and the excitement and passion they have for their projects is contagious. Not only are their ideas innovative and almost fantastical at times, but they’re also learning the soft skills of program management, communicating, delegating and working on a team. We had a couple of teams tell us their process and explain how they assigned duties to each team member—one person to write the essay, one person to focus on the SimCity, another to focus on the presentation. It impressed me that they were able to articulate their process and show a strong level of teamwork, but the value of this event stretches beyond the experience of managing a project.



Future City’s Impact

Growing up, I knew I wanted to be an engineer because several of my family members are engineers but I didn’t know what kind of engineering I wanted to study. This event is unique because it exposes kids to different types of engineering and gives them a chance to interact with professionals in the engineering field. I started out in Materials Science engineering because I had no idea what I really wanted to do. Had I participated in a competition like this, I think I would’ve found what I really wanted to do before taking a few detours.

As engineers, we get into the industry for lots of different reasons, but we start with this idea that as engineers we can make a difference in the world. This competition reminds us of what inspired us to become civil engineers in the first place while giving back to those who will carry the torch for us moving forward.



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