South-metro students learn engineering schools through Future City competition

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Two teams at Rosemount Middle School participated in the Future City competition, which aims to get kids excited about engineering by designing a city set in the future.

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At Rosemount Middle School, Jack Flom, 13, and Michael Stefanko, 14, worked on their model of the city Altona. The Future City competition asks students to solve global problems by designing their own vision of a city in the future.

Photo: Photos by Richard Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

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Last week, Jack Flom, an eighth-grader at Rosemount Middle School, was busy designing a city of the future.

As he put the finishing touches on the city’s model, he explained every detail of how it will work, from its circular layout to its transportation system and reliance on nuclear power.

“I think this part’s the hardest,” he said of creating the model. “But it’s also the funnest.”

Flom is one of four students on a team that was scheduled to compete Saturday in Minnesota’s Future City Competition Regional Finals at the University of Minnesota. They named their fictional city Altona and placed it in northern California.

This year, more teams than ever — 53 from Minnesota and North Dakota — took part in Future City, a program in which middle school students are challenged to design a fictional city set in the future. The regional finals were set for Saturday at the University of Minnesota.

Only one of those teams will continue to the finals in Washington, D.C.

A second team from Rosemount Middle School also was scheduled to compete Saturday, along with 10 other teams from the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district.

The Future City program began 21 years ago and has been in Minnesota for 14 years, said Colleen Feller, the regional coordinator.

“It started as a way to get engineers on TV,” Feller said. “The goal is to expose students to the field of engineering.”

And it’s best if you can pique students’ interest in engineering early, so it can gel in high school, said Will Grunewald, a retired electrical engineer from 3M who has been involved with the program for a decade.

He used to be a judge, but now he’s one of the Rosemount team’s mentors. All Future City teams have access to an engineer mentor.

“Right now there’s an extreme shortage of engineers in this country,” Grunewald said. “You talk about the number of engineers that are going to retire in the next 10 to 20 years — it’s phenomenal. There’s going to be a huge vacuum.”

Seeing the ‘big picture’

Each year, Future City has a theme. Last year, it was managing stormwater runoff, and the year before that, energy.

This year, the focus was transportation, which each Rosemount team approached in a slightly different way.

In their city, the Altona team used Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), a form of mass transit in which people take computer-controlled electric cars to destinations along a set track.

“It’s really difficult to design an efficient city,” said Michael Stefanko, an eighth-grader. “You want to keep it as green as possible, but there’s a trade-off in terms of money.”

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  • Jacob Engel painted the streets of his group’s model of the city Altona, which is supplied power by a thorium nuclear reactor and geothermal wells.

  • Teacher Alyssa Simmers overlooked Awecity with team members Will Rhoda, 12, and Sam Vanderwiel, 13. The city is powered by solar and wind energy and features a maglev train.

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