I remembered the first email I received from Dan O’Malley, asking if I am interested in hearing about the Future City. Before giving out an answer, I did a small research about it. I found many cool future city projects that Cisco had built (one in Korea and one in Florida). It’s REALLY fascinating. I then learn that the project wasn’t what he meant to recruit me for, but something else which I think it’s even cooler. Future City is the biggest national engineering competition for middle school students. It is part of the E-Week celebration. Students from 6,7 and 8th grade will form a team of 3 under the supervision of a mentor to build a virtual city using the Sim City software (provided by one of the main sponsors – EA Games), a model cities from recycled products, an essay and a presentation. This age range is quite interesting as it is when girls are likely to drop out from STEM. I thought that I could contribute and also try to bring more girls into the competition. So, I am in!
Engage stage – The competition is amazing, yet convincing schools and teachers to consider the benefits for their students, and to commit to it when having all the extra activities classes the students requires a lot of work and commitment myself. Some teachers got really excited themselves because of their backgrounds, and some were hesitate due to the workload that their students would have to commit to. Anyway, Dina Verdin (the other outreach coordinator) and I talked on the phones with principals and teachers, visited many different schools from San Jose to San Francisco. Sometimes I got a grateful smiles, a promising conversation when sometimes there was a suspicious or even hostile attitude as thinking that I am a salesperson. Finally, all hard work made to a great turn out of 100+ teams signed up.
Support stage – If in the beginning, people had questions about how to sign up, what are the rules, etc, questions during this stage were more technical : how do use the code to download the games, installation and loading the cities, etc. I acted as a technical support. I made couple of instructional videos ranging from “How to download and install the Sim City game on Mac OS” to “How to build a city and rules for the competitions”. I actually downloaded the game and started to play for couple of days before I recorded the video to be familiar with it. I played the Sims before. In fact, I should say I got addicted to the Sims I were young. I grew up with the game (from Sims 1 to Sims 3). Yet, I had never played the Sim City. As expected, I got so addicted building my own city that I forgot to have dinner. After getting everyone install the Sim City software on their computers successfully, they started building their cities, and we started to get more engineering questions. Engineering mentors were recruited to help answer the students’ questions and give them the assistances they needed along the competition. We have too many teams that needed assistances and instead of waiting for mentors (who are also busy with their industry’s workloads), I created a Google group for teachers to ask questions so that they can get a fast response from the mentors, other supported staffs from the Future City, or other teachers.
Final stage – Finally that day had come. On Saturday (Jan 25) at Cisco Building 9 all the teams were ready to present their works to the judges. I arrived at 7:15am and there were already many teams waiting in front of the building (they didn’t have to come until 8:30 am). I started to check people in. Seeing all the students with their models is the best coffee I would had taken. I was so energetic, and couldn’t get tired. I forgot that I didn’t eat anything. I wouldn’t feel thirsty nor hungry. I was walking around to do a final check before the judges come out, and there were students in suits practice their speeches. I sat in couple of the presentations and I was speechless.
- Presentation skill: I am myself an event organizer, took public speaking in college, had been to many hackathons, and felt humble in front of those young students. They delivered amazing presentations/speeches. Regardless whether their mentors/teachers might write the script, being able to keep the audiences interested along the presentation, which was filled with engineering details is a big credit that go to the students/presenters. They would act naturally in a script during the presentations, they utilized great body languages and gestures, and they are very confident. I looked at them and tried to remember what did I achieve at that age. I learned so much from those kids.
- Project quality: some of the judges made the comments: they have been working in the industries for years, and have seen many professional projects, yet the quality of those projects as well as the presentations were really extraordinary. So the theme of this year is “Tomorrow’s Transit: Design a way to move people in and around your city.” From nanotechnology to latest technology were utilized in their cities. One built an underground subway system for a Japanese city. Many groups include the self-driven car of Google. They did their research, thoroughly. I doubt that people in the industry or engineer college students would know about the latest innovative projects as much as them.
- Team work: I remembered one of the most challenging part that would make my grade suffer in college is team project. My communication skill is above average, but I have to admit: working with others is not easy. It indeeds a challenge. In some of the teams, the members didn’t know each others beforehand, some members are classmates, etc. yet they support and encourage each others well. Many teams admitted that they argued every day in the beginning, yet they learnt to work with each others along the way. That’s exactly what the meaning behind the competition. These kids came to learn many things about engineering, technology, yet also different skill sets such as presenting, socializing, team building. These skills are so valuable to them later in college and in the industry.
I introduce you to the videos of the finalist presentations:
A student shared his experience while building the Future City
I would like to thank Dan O’Malley – my boss to recruit me, introduce me to this great event as well as being flexible with my hectic schedule. Thank to Laura Lorenzo for putting this Future City NorCal event together and allowing me to contribute as much as I can. I definitely will contribute again for the upcoming Future City and many others.