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FRANKLIN - Forest Park Middle School students returned from the national Future City competition in Washington, D.C., with an award, more knowledge about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and a renewed interest for studying engineering.

After winning the regional competition in January, seventh-graders Shriya Punati, Pallavi Kandipati and Pranav Iyer took their future city of "Jivana" to nationals Feb. 18-20. Their city won an award for excellence in systems integration. Their project was a "demonstration of excellence in the design of integrated systems of people, material, information equipment, and energy," according to the award criteria.

“Winning a special award in the National Future City Competition, against 44 other regional winners across the nation, is a tough feat to accomplish,” said Kelly Wesolowski, Program Manager at STEM Forward and Wisconsin Regional Future City Coordinator. “We’re extremely proud of team Jivana for taking home the Excellence in Systems Integration award, and representing Wisconsin in the competition.”

The seventh-graders were the first Wisconsin team to win an award at nationals since 2012, when St. Mary's Parish School in Hales Corners took home the first-place trophy and a special award.

The three-day Future City competition featured two rounds of judging – one for special awards and one for the overall awards – and an awards ceremony the final day. Each team present had advanced to the finals by creating a city that could exist 100 years in the future with several different components: a virtual city design created using Sim City software, a 1,500-word essay, a scale model of the project, and a presentation given to the judges.

Mumbai inspired

To showcase their city of Jivana, which is based off the modern-day city of Mumbai, the team created a "Bollywood" script, ion which Punati and Iyer were actors in a film about the city, and Kandipati interviewed them.

Going to India and seeing different problems that afflict the cities there made the students think that an Indian city would be the perfect candidate for the project.

"Pranav and I had visited family in India. We saw there were no public spaces, a lot of empty lots, poor people ... and we knew there were similar conditions in Mumbai," said Punati. "We realized that the problems in Mumbai could be fixed by creating public spaces."

Creating public spaces to replace "brown spaces" left by abandoned buildings and manufacturing was the topic of this year's competition. Their city solved the problem by creating a "snowflake system" of green spaces, with one large green space in the middle connected to other smaller spaces by pedestrian walkways and bikeways.

In addition to describing their city to the judges, the students also were interviewed by Scholastic while they were at the competition, and they got to share about their unique city and the thoughts behind it with the publication's representatives.

Learning from others 

Outside of the competition, the students, along with their teacher Mary Fassbender and engineer mentor Mike Harrington, had the opportunity to tour the nation's capital and listen to speakers share about their experiences in different STEM fields.

"A lot of the speeches were really cool," Iyer said.

"One of the speakers talked about how there is a worker shortage in some races, and that some don't get as many engineering jobs as some races," Punati added. "Future City made us more aware of engineering."

Though they had all been considering jobs in the field, all three students said they were seriously considering different fields of engineering now.

"It was really good for them to see real life people in the field," Fassbender said.

The competition itself was also very eye-opening, for both the students and their teacher.

Though the Future City finals mostly feature teams within the country, teams from Egypt, China, and Canada were also competing, broadening the level of competition. Many teams were also significantly larger than Forest Park's, with sometimes as many as 20 people on one team.

"The level of competition was really high," said Fassbender, noting the complexities of some of the other projects.

She also hopes that the examples she will be able to gather of other projects from around the world will give future students a better idea of how to tackle the large project.

Future efforts

Next year, the Jivana team members said they look forward to creating a city again, this time with a better handle on the competition than before and even more ideas.

They would encourage anyone who is interested in STEM to do the project.

"Everyone should try Future City. It’s a really fun experience," Punati said. "Even if you don’t make it to regionals or nationals, it’s fun to build something together."

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