Building The Next Generation Of Engineers, One Volunteer At A Time
Hundreds of thousands of young people have been introduced to engineering, many for the first time, through the National Engineers Week Future City CompetitionTM. Now in its 17th year, the competition makes engineering come alive and has been credited with guiding many students to consider engineering careers. Critical to that success are the volunteer engineer mentors, who serve as role models for young minds eager to learn. Future City needs engineers from every field to volunteer this fall and winter. To sign up as a mentor, visit www.futurecity.org and click on “Register / as an Engineer.” Engineers will be contacted by their area’s regional coordinator.
Think of it as 30,000 eager students in search of an engineer – and perhaps an engineering career.
Each year, the National Engineers Week Future City CompetitionTM introduces tens of thousands of seventh- and eighth-graders to the rigors of creating cities of tomorrow. As part of the process, they work with a volunteer engineer mentor, who guides students through the complicated realities of creating a future community with a complete, functioning infrastructure, from skyscrapers and parks to transportation and energy. Along the way, students discover the role of engineering in their own lives, and their potential to take on that role themselves.
The benefit for the students – and the engineering profession – is obvious, but engineers who have yet to experience Future City firsthand may want to know what’s in it for them. To hear veteran mentors tell it, the simple answer is: plenty.
“There is so much to be gained from working with these youth,” explains Catherine Anderson, engineer mentor at Queen of Angels Catholic School in Roswell, Georgia, who describes the benefits as a two-way street. “We get the privilege of opening doors to new worlds and possibilities for them, and in return they help to inspire us and rekindle our own passion for engineering and future solutions to problems we face today.”
Ted Beidler, mentor to Heritage Middle School in Westerville, Ohio, agrees. “I work for the government as a county engineer,” says Beidler, “but I suspect our desires are the same as a private entity: attracting smart, personable individuals to the profession. If we can show some young person the rewarding opportunities that an engineering career can offer, all the better for our profession.”
Beidler also enjoys the hands-on appeal of Future City, not only for students, but for mentors. “With Future City, you’re right there working with the students, commenting on their ideas and directly answering their questions,” he says. “While I like to see them take my advice on issues, I probably find it more rewarding when they say, ‘Thanks for your input, but we’re going to do it our way!’ It’s at those times that I know we will have plenty of intelligent, self-confident young people to carry on in the profession.”
Identifying and empowering potential engineers is essential to the competition’s popularity with those who provide it with critical support, says Carol Rieg, the program’s national director. “From our corporate and professional society sponsors to the hundreds of engineers who volunteer at the local level, Future City represents one of the most successful investments in cultivating the next generation of engineers,” she says.
The annual Future City Competition, the nation’s largest not-for-profit engineering education program, asks middle school students – working with a teacher and mentor – to create cities on computers using SimCity 4 Deluxe, build a large, tabletop model of a portion of their city, prepare an oral presentation, and write an abstract and essay. This year’s essay challenges students to develop homes with self-sustaining water systems. To ensure a level playing field, models must use recycled materials and can cost no more than $100.
More than 30,000 students from a record-number 1,111 schools participated in 2007-08. Winning teams, including their volunteer mentors, from 40 regional competitions across the country receive an all-expense-paid trip to the National Finals in Washington, D.C., February 16-18, 2009, during Engineers Week, co-chaired by Intel and the National Society of Professional Engineers.
Rieg notes that now is the optimum time for engineers to sign up with a Future City team to be ready when students start their projects this fall. “By finding schools in their area that need a mentor, engineers can prepare to integrate volunteering into their professional schedules,” says Rieg, who adds, “they shouldn’t be surprised if their time mentoring turns out to be among the most rewarding of their week.”
Julie Gennaro, a consulting engineer at URS who guided the Future City team at Our Lady Help of Christians school in Abington, Pennsylvania, says the time investment is well worth it.
“We all know the statistics about the lack of students entering the engineering profession,” says Gennaro. “Well, here is an opportunity to do something about it and inspire young people to pursue engineering as a profession. Some students never even considered engineering before participating in Future City.”
Gennaro also notes that those who volunteer find Future City a natural fit. “As engineers we love to solve problems,” she says. “What can be more fun than spending time with a group of young people discussing current and future engineering challenges and brainstorming solutions?”
For information on mentoring a Future City team, visit www.futurecity.org and click on “Register / as an Engineer.” Engineers will be contacted by their area’s regional coordinator.
About the National Engineers Week Foundation
The National Engineers Week Foundation, a formal coalition of more than 75 professional societies, major corporations and government agencies, is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers among young students and by promoting pre-college literacy in math and science. Engineers Week also raises public understanding and appreciation of engineers' contributions to society. Founded in 1951 it is among the oldest of America's professional outreach efforts. Co-chairs for 2009 are Intel and the National Society of Professional Engineers. For more information, visit www.eweek.org.