By Amy Gao, CH2M HILL Water Engineer

The Future City Competition™ is a National Engineers Week program where teams of middle school students work with an educator and a volunteer mentor to imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Volunteer mentors are currently be recruited for the upcoming Competition, which has the great, and very timely, theme of, “Rethink Runoff: Design Clean Solutions to Manage Stormwater Pollution.” From my own experience as a mentor, I can tell you that working with these students for the Future City Competition is incredibly rewarding – not only to see how they grow as students and budding engineers, but also to have their enthusiasm and fresh ideas inspire me time and again.

During the last Future City Competition, I was a volunteer mentor in a public middle school in East New York. I provided advice, guidance, and technical assistance as the students worked on the various project components. I met with the students every month to talk about various aspects of engineering. These topics include what engineers do to plan and improve cities, including transportation, power supply, water supply, environmental considerations, manufacturing, etc.  In between visits, I emailed research ideas or other helpful tips to help them model their future city. At the end of each visit, the students and teachers were always so thankful for my help. I am proud to say that that the student’s design won the AECOM Most Sustainable Water Use Award for their innovative design using water turbines to harvest energy from the ocean to power the entire city.

I will be volunteering again this year, and highly recommend that others become involved in the Future City Competition because it’s a great way to spark math, science and engineering interest in students, especially at schools that do not have existing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs, opportunities and resources. It was inspiring to work with students with limited resources, and see their enthusiasm and creative final engineered product. Programs, like the Future City Competition, target middle school students, which is the ideal age group for inspiring a career choice in math, science and engineering.

More details about the competition and what it involves to be a mentor can be found below.

What is Future City?

A five-part engineering competition, student teams:

- Design a virtual city with SimCity software
- Research and write an essay addressing this year’s topic—Rethink Runoff: Design Clean Solutions to Manage Stormwater Pollution
- Build a physical model of their city using recycled materials
- Write a brief narrative promoting their city
- Present their city before a panel of judges in January

What Does the Volunteer Mentor Do?

For one hour a week, over 12 to 14 weeks (August – January), you will serve as project advisor and:

- Help students break the project into manageable pieces
- Review the essay and city narrative
- Offer advice and guidance on the model
- Have fun and help kids explore engineering

Why Volunteer?

As a Future City mentor, you will:

- Share your enthusiasm for engineering with kids
- Be a key team member and instill the value of teamwork in kids

Learn more or register as a mentor at www.futurecity.org.

Amy Gao is a Water Engineer in CH2M HILL’s New York City Office. She holds an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and B.S. in Earth and Environmental Engineering from Columbia University. She is an active participant with the American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Federation, and the Society of Women Engineers.