A team of science and engineering enthusiasts from Southwest Middle School brought home fourth-place honors last week from the national Future City competition in Washington, D.C.
But Danielle Lotton-Barker, their teacher and team sponsor, said the students almost didn't get the chance to show their design of a transportation system for an imaginary city of the future. That's because in order to get their project to the tournament site, they first had to overcome some real-world transportation challenges of today.
“There had been serious snowstorms on the east coast in the 24 hours prior, so we were pretty worried about getting there” Lotton-Barker said of the flight to Washington on Friday, Feb. 14.
Future City, which is sponsored by several professional and technical societies and major U.S. corporations, is a project-based activity where middle school-age students to work as teams to imagine, design and build a city at least 150 years in the future, with particular focus on one major problem or challenge. This year's challenge was transportation.
One team from Southwest qualified to the national event after placing first in the regional competition held in January at Kansas University. Two other teams from Southwest - one of eighth graders and another of seventh graders - also competed at the regional event.
At the national event, real-world transportation challenge didn't end with the snowstorms that threatened to delay passengers, Lotton-Barker said. By Sunday, when the first round of judging began, the students' model city itself – the thing they had spent months designing and putting together, and which had to be shipped to Washington separately – still had not arrived.
“Because of all of the storms, nine models were stuck in various parts of the country in distribution centers,” she said. “At that point, they didn't even have an ability to tell us for sure when or if the models would arrive.”
In fact, it wasn't until Monday afternoon, less than 90 minutes before their scheduled formal presentation, that the model they had disassembled for shipment finally arrived.
“So by the time the models were unloaded off the truck, the reconstruction teams jumped into action, with surgical focus, trying to get the boards together and the moving parts to work,” she said. “They were rock stars.”
The Southwest team's project envisioned a futuristic city in Canada called Libban-Eft that would compete to host the 2176 Olympics. Their design featured a transportation system they called a Plexus - “a series of underground tubes that connect the city and transport passengers quickly and safely in Superconducting Modules (Mods).”
The team was awarded fourth place overall out of 37 teams competing. And it received a special award for addressing the challenge of accessibility.
“I just couldn't be prouder of them,” Lotton-Barker said.
The team members included: Madelyn Johnson; Eli Börk; Anna Bial; Paul Loupe; Quentin Harrington; Anton Barybin; John Ely: Hirsh Guha; Ben Katz; Ulises Magaña de la Paz; Jeseung Lee; Anna Osterhaus; Milo Schoenen; Ting Ting Shi; Isaac Springe; and Claire Walther.