Students from three dozen middle schools across the region gathered at Carnegie Music Hall Saturday for Pittsburgh’s 15th annual Future City competition.
Coordinated by the Carnegie Science Center, the competition challenges students to imagine and build the cities of the future.
Linda Ortenzo, director of STEM programs at the science center, said getting to the actual competition is a semester-long process.
“They design (the city) on SimCity software online. They write an essay about it,” said Ortenzo. “Then they build a scale model of their city, and they present it to judges who are actual engineers in a variety of fields.”
This year, judges included entrepreneurs, academic researchers, and military personnel.
Ortenzo said the competition requires students to practice a variety of important career skills.
“They work in teams, they have to communicate well, they have to solve problems,” Ortenzo said. “They get to use their creativity, their innovation skills, and it’s just a really exciting, in-depth look at what engineers do and just how they impact every bit of daily life.”
The theme for this year’s competition was transportation, and if students from the three dozen middle schools involved are correct, future transportation systems will rely heavily on magnetic levitation, which students abbreviated as "maglev."
Warren Sipe was on the winning team from St. Bede School in Pittsburgh. His team imagined that rising sea levels had created a brand new island from what was once the Canadian coastline along the Hudson Bay.
“To get from our island to the mainland, we utilize a vacuum maglev,” Sipe said. “To get around our island, you have LEVs or lightweight efficient vehicles. LEVs can be ridden onto the maglev and off of the maglev, which is subterranean and can travel throughout the city. We also utilize gondola rails for shorter range transportation.”
Ortenzo said events like the Future City competition are important for encouraging kids’ interest in science and engineering.
“They really are the next generation of engineers and problem solvers for our region and our society, we really all have a stake in having them be this excited and engaged,” Ortenzo said.
Sipe and his teammates from St. Bede are headed to Washington, D.C. next month, to compete against 36 other teams in the national competition.
The winning school will receive a grand prize of $7,500 for their STEM program, and the winning students will attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
The local competition was sponsored by Shell Corporation.