Cities of the future take root in College of Engineering

4/5/2010 - By: John Trent

Years from now, when cities of the world have incorporated cutting-edge engineering and development ideas that make them sustainable and safe, residents can point to gatherings like January’s regional Future City 2010 Competition, which was hosted by the College of Engineering and held on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

It was there that seventh and eighth grade students from northern Nevada applied seemingly futuristic engineering concepts in designing the ultimate city of tomorrow, as part of the “Future City” competition. The 12 local teams were part of 34,000 seventh and eighth graders nationally. The students put forward innovative ideas and designs for a city of tomorrow.

The regional competition was held Jan. 22-23 in the College of Engineering’s Harry Reid Engineering Laboratory. The competition’s overall winner, Northern Nevada Home School’s “City of Esperanza” project, eventually finished third in the national final, held in February in Washington, D.C. The team’s members included Jamie Poston, Bailey Watkins and Julianna Lucas.

The value of such an experience cannot be underestimated, said Garth Oksol, a project manager for Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) who has been involved with the competition as an organizer or judge for the past seven years.

“The Future City Competition is a great vehicle to introduce the students to the wide world of engineering,” Oksol said. “One of the common things I hear every year is, ‘I had no idea how much engineering goes into everything,’ or, ‘Engineers are involved in just about everything.’

“The competition also gets the students working together, solving problems, and working towards a common goal. They also learn communication and resolution skills. Any opportunity to supplement the standardized education that the students receive during classes is a great opportunity to broaden their views and challenge them in new ways.”

Oksol said the event was also an excellent way for the College of Engineering to show potential engineers how research in the field is conducted, and that, ultimately, engineering can be a fun and rewarding career. As part of January’s northern Nevada regional competition, students were given tours of the college’s large-scale structures, mechanical engineering and robotics research laboratories.

“The College of Engineering’s support through the years has been invaluable,” Oksol said. “The students truly enjoy the tours give by the college’s students and learning about what happens in college laboratories. Most of these students have a passion for furthering their education and having the competition located in an institution of higher learning is a unique and valuable experience for them.

“Partnerships like this with the College of Engineering are vital to getting the word out that engineering is a big part of what makes the world go round.”

Michele Dennis, an RTC engineer, has also been a longtime fixture at the competition as a mentor and judge. She said she has always been impressed by the dedication of the students who enter Future City.

“In addition to the computer model they must create, they work as a team to construct a scale model of a portion of their city using recycled materials, they write a city narrative and an essay which addresses a different, complex engineering issue each year, they prepare a five- to seven-minute presentation highlighting all the aspects of their city, and then, after presenting to a judging panel of engineering and related professionals, they are ‘grilled’ by this panel for approximately ten minutes,” she said.

“It’s a lot of work, plus the students are really on their toes during the question and answer session.

“It’s amazing what they accomplish and how much knowledge they acquire during the presentation for the competition. The students involved are truly inspiring.”


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