FORT WAYNE, Ind.—A blend of Fort Wayne partners created a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for Woodside Middle School students to compete at the National Future City Finals held during Engineers Week, February 15–18, in Washington, D.C. The team was selected as one of four teams who represented their school, earning the Indiana Future City title during the regional competition held at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) on January 18. It was a “three-peat” win for Woodside Middle School, as previous teams won the regional competition in 2012 and 2013.
The Institute of Industrial Engineers honored the team for their city’s Excellence in Systems Integration. A short time later, the team accepted the National Society of Professional Engineers award for Protecting the Public’s Safety and Welfare through Competent and Ethical Engineering Practices. The team will be featured in the next issue of Industrial Engineers professional magazine for winning that organization’s award.
Woodside student Jodi Camino summed up her reaction to the awards, “Winning two special area awards out of the top 37 teams in the nation was enormously satisfying and a huge honor.”
Camino was part of a three-student presentation team from Woodside Middle School, Fort Wayne, that also included students Tyler Kuntz and Ameena Sohail. In addition, three other students worked on the project: Matthew Fisher, Skip Jester, and Chris Howard. The students were led by Woodside teacher Laura Smith, and their engineer-mentor, Troy Larkins. Their futuristic city called Santos, situated in Brazil, was conceived, designed, and constructed as part of a curriculum project where all 8th grade students work on some aspect of Future City.
The Fort Wayne partners who collaborate on offering this annual educational opportunity represent multiple organizations who believe the competition is one of many outstanding programs that will enrich northeast Indiana STEM education. Since 2002, the IPFW College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science (ETCS) has worked closely with representatives from the City of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Science Central, and the northeast Indiana Engineers Week Committee to offer the competition to any school in the state of Indiana. The collaboration continues with area businesses and professional organizations including Indiana Michigan Power, GAI Consultants, and the American Public Workers Association, who are among the fifteen sponsors that support the competition with a variety of awards. Adding to the strength of the program are engineers from area businesses who act as mentors and resources for teachers.
Troy Larkins of Engineering Resources is one of many engineers who share their expertise and time to provide advice to students on the model construction. Larkins explained why he got involved: “Prior to college, the only exposure I had to engineering was a science teacher who told me, ‘You should go into engineering because you’re good at math and science.’ Future City goes so much further by introducing the fields of engineering to students when they are in junior high.”
However, even the students who decide not to pursue engineering learn valuable lessons. Teacher Laura Smith shared her observations: “There is an atmosphere of excitement that is not always present. I have seen students work harder than they ever have, not for a grade, not for a parent, but because they were interested and involved. The project positively influences their work ethic, showing them the benefit of hard work. They take the project seriously and personally.”
The final, most important collaborating partners for a project like Future City are the school and the teachers who take on the challenge of offering this complex STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) project to their students. When all these forces come together and mentor—university, community partners, school, teachers—the results are amazing for the students. Some teams like Woodside have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., and other teams who participate each year have valuable experiences interacting with adult volunteers at the regional event, including Lakeside Middle School, Most Precious Blood Catholic School, Blackhawk Middle School, and Canterbury School, along with schools from Columbia City, Huntington, Indianapolis, and South Bend.
As Smith says, “Future City forces them to look at their world differently, to realize they play a role in the world around them. It empowers them. They realize they can make a difference in the world.” Woodside student Ameena Sohail summed up the impact of Future City and the various mentors in and out of her school who came together to help their team: “These mentors showed me that Future City is not just something that stays with me in the eighth grade, but the skills that I acquire are ones that I will be using my whole life.”