The Future City Competition is a project-based learning experience where students in 6th – 8th grade imagine, research, design, and build cities of the future. Keeping the engineering design process and project management front and center, students are asked to address the big question: How can we make the world a better place? This year’s competition theme was future cities with a power grid that can withstand and recover from a natural disaster.

In 2015, Future City Competition was named the grand prize winner in the UL Innovative Education Award (ULIEA) program. Each year, UL employees participate in the finals judging process to determine which teams best incorporated this year’s challenge into their design.

In February, Tom Chapin, Vice President, Research served as one of the five finalist judges for the second consecutive year. Zoe Susice, Director, Strategy & Marketing; David Worth, Director, Data Science; Derek Greenauer, Director, Global Government Affairs; Sarah Owen, Manager, Global Government Affairs; Deepa Shankar, Partnership Manager, Education & Outreach; and Helen Kim, Project Coordinator, Education & Outreach participated as preliminary round judges.

UL gives a special award for “Excellence in Resilience Engineering.” This award was given to the team of students who demonstrated excellence in the city design of resilient systems that withstand and quickly adapt to adverse circumstance and events like natural disasters. This year’s winner was Mill Middle School from New York because of their stellar work incorporating strategic planning for resilient transportation systems, infrastructure, and failure systems (“in case of” scenarios). Mill Middle School also applied the concept of biomimicry into their design.

“Being at a competition with some of the brightest minds in the country is truly a blessing,” said 13-year-old Grace Kegel. “My takeaway from this amazing experience is I can do it! It’s all possible!”

During the Future City Competition, students work as a team to complete the following five stages: 1) design of a virtual city using SimCity™ software, 2) research on a city-wide issue and write an essay describing their findings and innovative solutions, 3) a project plan to help keep their project on track, 4) building of a tabletop scale model of their city using recycled materials, and 5) a short presentation about their city, which regional winning teams present at the Future City Finals in Washington, D.C. for a preliminary and then final competition.

Warwick Middle School, from the Central Pennsylvania region, took home the grand prize of a trip to U.S. Space Camp and $7,500 for its school’s STEM program.

Second place went to the Alabama regional students from the Academy for Science and Foreign Language in Huntsville. Their school receives a $5,000 scholarship for its STEM program.

Kaifukuryoku – engineered by New Jersey Region students from JerseySTEM – took third place honors. Their program receives a $2,000 scholarship for its STEM program.

Honorable mention for fourth place went to Idaho Region students from Sacred Heart Catholic School for their Future City, Baru. Fifth place was awarded to Mid-Atlantic Region students from Edlin School for their city Imperium. Each receives $750 for their organization’s STEM programs.

“Future City Competition embodies everything we believe in a partner. Like us, they engage students with hands-on activities and project-based learning with the ultimate goal to inspire middle school students in science and engineering. Participating as judges at the local and national competitions allows UL employees to see the students in action and reinforces our faith in this young generation and their aspirations to pursue careers in STEM,” Deepa Shankar, Education Partnership Manager, UL.