Senior Citizens' Concerns A Top Priority As Students Nationwide Engineer Future Cities
Among the many concerns of American seventh- and eighth-graders, add a new one to the mix: Make the world a better place for senior citizens. For more than 30,000 middle school students participating in the 2004 National Engineers Week Future City CompetitionTM, designing ways to improve the health and safety of the nation's seniors will be a number one priority.
Each year, Future City invites young people across the United States to create a city of tomorrow. What began in 1992 as a modest outreach program by the nation’s engineering community to encourage interest in math and science has grown ten-fold to become one of the most popular educational programs of its kind. More than 1,000 middle schools will field teams at one of 36 regional competitions in January. First place regional winners receive an all-expense-paid trip to national finals in Washington, D.C., during National Engineers Week, February 22-28, 2004. Grand prize is a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
Working with a teacher and volunteer engineer mentor, students first design a city on computer using SimCity 3000 software, donated to each school by Maxis, based in Walnut Creek, Calif., and then build a three-dimensional scale model. This year, they must also write an essay on improving the lives of senior citizens through the use of plastic products or services.
Competition organizers say the needs of seniors are an especially timely theme since the over-60 population is the nation's fastest growing demographic.
Creating solutions that make life better for older people is already a major concern of engineers, one likely to become only more pressing with the graying of America.
To answer the competition's essay question, "How can plastics be used to help senior citizens in the future?" the students must work within the parameters of current trends. Lower crime rates, improved living conditions, and higher education levels will result in an ever-increasing population of citizens who live longer. To deal with that reality, Future City teams must develop a product or a service using a plastic product that increases flexibility, provides additional functionality, or otherwise enhances senior citizen health and safety. The American Plastics Council, sponsors of this year's Future City essay question, notes that plastics have a wide diversity of uses and include such well-known names as Bakelite, cellophane, nylon, polyethylene, PVC, rayon, saran, Teflon and Velcro.
Wrestling with such a challenge is typical of Future City, according to Carol Rieg, the program's National Director. "Future City has plenty of room for imagination and fun, and this is what draws the students in," says Rieg, “but it's the program's academic difficulty that keeps them involved. Students who might otherwise feel there's no purpose in learning math and science end up spending hours using those very subjects to find solutions for their city. They have a stake in their city and they’ll do whatever work is required to achieve their goals."
Future City fosters that kind of determination, Rieg adds, since the essence of engineering is solving problems. "Students who understand the importance of math and science and the value of working together as a team have the foundation for a career in engineering and many other professions," she says.
Helping senior citizens is in keeping with the way Future City forces students to deal with all the realities of a functioning city. Students must build their city with a balanced budget while fighting crime, pollution and traffic jams and providing jobs, schools and leisure activities.
If it sounds difficult, it is. But as one student remarked last year, "It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and one of the most fun."
School registration deadline for the 2004 Future City Competition is October 15, 2003. For more information, visit www.futurecity.org or call toll-free 1-877-636-9578.
The National Engineers Week Future City Competition is sponsored by the National Engineers Week Committee, a consortium of professional and technical societies and major U.S. corporations, co-chaired in 2004 by the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, Inc.-USA (IEEE-USA) and Fluor.
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IN BRIEF: The National Engineers Week Future City CompetitionTM each year invites middle school students nationwide to create cities of tomorrow. The competition encourages interest in math, science and engineering through hands-on applications. This year's challenge includes improving the lives of senior citizens using plastics. School registration deadline is October 15, 2003. For more information, visit www.futurecity.org or call toll-free 1-877-636-9578.