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Junior High Teams From Around The State Compete To Design The City Of The Future

Kaitlin Taylor from Senn-Thomas Middle School puts the finishing touches on her team's model city for the Future City Competition. 1-25-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Kaitlin Taylor from Senn-Thomas Middle School puts the finishing touches on her team's model city for the Future City Competition.

ROLLA — Twenty teams of Missouri junior high students took a crack at solving a big problem: What will cities of the future look like as they try to address clean water shortages?

Future City is an annual competition challenging sixth through eighth graders to design and build a model of a city and present it to a group of judges. This year’s theme was “Clean Water: Tap Into Tomorrow.”

The teams gathered at Missouri University of Science and Technology over the past weekend to present their ideas and compete for a chance to represent the state at a national competition in Washington, D.C.

The student teams of three to eight members started by designing a city using SimCity software. Then they transferred the design to a scale model, wrote an essay and developed an oral presentation.

The team from St. Clair Junior High won with “La Tierra Prometida,” a floating city. They addressed clean water with a plan to remove the salt from the ocean water underneath their city.

“Our plan is to extend rods down into the water and then spread the semi-permeable membrane around it, and then using the tides to power this,” said Philip North, a seventh grader on the St. Clair team. “It’s clean and allows our city to have fresh water constantly.”

Minutes after the team was announced as a winner, members were already huddling up to discuss what they can do better at nationals. The team plans to focus on improving its performance during questioning by the judges.

“We came up with a lot of answers, but we need to condense it down to knowing more who will answer what kind of questions will be helpful,” North said.

Overall, they were pleased with their performance.

“Our main feeling is happiness. We’re overjoyed,” said St. Clair team member J.J. Hawkins. 

“I’m just really excited about going to D.C.,” Cameron Tedrick said.

The winning city was "La Tierra Prometida" from St. Clair Junior High 01-25-20
Credit Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
The winning city was "La Tierra Prometida" from St. Clair Junior High.

Second place went to a team from Stover Middle School. The team from Senn-Thomas Middle School in Herculaneum came in third.

Senn-Thomas designed a round city with a spiral river starting at the center and moving its way out to the edge. 

Seventh grader Kaitlin Taylor says her team learned about an experimental polyethylene mesh fabric that can be used in an atmospheric water collector. That was the beginning of their design.

“We did a lot of research, and we learned about this fabric, and we just thought that was really neat. And, water travels easily in a spiral. We just kind of combined it and came up with this,” Taylor said.

The process has some members of the Senn-Thomas team thinking about their future careers.

“I’m interested in engineering and going into the engineering field. I’m not sure exactly what kind yet, because that is such a broad spectrum,” Taylor said.

One of the main goals of Future City is to get kids thinking about working in engineering. Christine Troyer, gifted program director for the Morgan County Schools and coach of the team from Versailles, said extracurricular activities like this can teach students practical skills they can’t learn in the classroom and spark an interest in their future.

These are things that they can apply to their interests. "Just coming here and being on campus is very important for these guys to see what’s out here, what they will be able to do,” Troyer said.

Melissa Peterein, project engineer with the engineering firm Black & Veatch in St. Louis, was one of the judges for the competition. She said that it was difficult to pick a winner, and that all the students show a lot of promise.

“The future is in good hands. If I had this opportunity when I was in middle school, it would have been awesome,” Peterein said, “especially collaborative teamwork in both research and presentation.”

The winning team won’t have much time to prepare for nationals. The finals are Feb. 15-19, with the winning team getting $7,500 for its school, and each team member getting a trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.