- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Students from across the country presented a glimpse into the future of large cities during yesterday’s national finals of the 12th annual National Engineers Week Future City Competition in Northwest.

Dozens of students and parents filled the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency at 400 New Jersey Ave. NW to watch the nation’s top-five middle schools present their scale-model cities of the future.

The top prize was nabbed by the team from Riverview Junior/Senior High School, a small school in Oakmont, Pa., that won the Pittsburgh regional.

“It was almost unexpected,” Riverview team member Cara Hartz, 13, said of the win. She and teammates Allison Garda, 13, and Natalie French, 14, said they began working on their model last May. The prize-winning city, named “Avenir,” was constructed from items such as bracelets, Margaritas glasses, compact discs and “a bunch of old Pringles’ cans.”

An engineer and a teacher assisted each of the 33 teams of three students in constructing their cities of plastic and in explaining how it can be used to help senior citizens in the future. Each model had to contain at least one moving part, and power sources had to be self-contained. The spending limit was $100.

The number of teams was whittled down to five — Ohio, Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago — throughout the week. Yesterday, the five teams made 12-minute oral presentations about their model cities to five judges.

Despite the monthslong effort that went into its construction project, the winning team had set modest goals when they entered the competition.

“We didn’t expect to win,” Allison said. “We would have been happy to have finished in the top five of the regionals.”

Each regional winner received an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals. First-place national team wins a trip to Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. Regional winners from New York and Philadelphia — the second- and third-place teams — received $2,000 and $1,000 scholarships for their schools, respectively.

The team from R.H. Terrell Junior High School at 1000 First St. NW, which represented the Washington area, was the first from that area to win the regional competition. Although the students were somewhat disappointed about not making it to the final round, team members said they were not daunted by the setback.

“We’re not upset [by the loss],” said Zataunia Heard, 13. She and teammates Danielle Nelson, 14, and Shawnne Bender, 15, named their city “Plassien,” Greek for plastics.

“We have other [science-based] competitions coming up.”

Lucius Stephenson, the girls’ teacher, said despite the loss, the experience had been beneficial to them.

“They definitely [took something] away from the competition,” said Mr. Stephenson, who has participated in the competition for seven years. “It helped them develop skills such as public speaking, critical thinking and advanced mathematics. It also helped them develop confidence.”

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