The Kutztown Area Middle School Future City team won the Most Innovative Transportation System award at the recent virtual Future City competition.

“(Winning the award) felt very good, because we worked hard to complete and make a successful transport system. We had already won this award in the past two years as well, so we're pretty experienced in this subject,” said 8th grader Tucker Hilliard. “I was excited to see what our imaginations could come up with, especially since we had been locked up in quarantine for a long time.”

Their city, Cybele, is located on the moon.

Hilliard explained that the team had to come up with a fully functioning city with no oxygen, water, food, or shelter at all, since they were living on the moon. A big challenge was transporting equipment.

“I thought it was nice to come up with figurative cities with different scenarios making a barrier for us. I thought that the teamwork and the sharing and communicating of ideas is really great and it’s nice to see what a group of people can come up with,” said Hilliard.

6th grader Mason Erdman was particularly excited that their city was on the moon.

“When the SpaceX Crew Demo-2 mission blasted off in May 2020, I found two things I enjoyed learning about: rockets and space. I also enjoy learning about engineering. When I heard that the theme for Future City this year was to build a city on the moon, I knew that I would participate,” said Erdman. “I liked watching how we had different ideas and how those ideas came together and changed to become the final product. I also learned a lot from my team.”

“It felt pretty good to win the Most Innovative Transportation System award,” said 8th grader Scott Ashman (his dad is his teacher and Future City advisor). He has participated in Future City all three years of middle school. “I liked participating in Future City because it gave me something to do during this year.”

8th grader Lucas Hoffman liked brainstorming a futuristic city.

“I am glad we won Most Innovative Transportation System, especially since this is the aspect of the project I probably helped with the most,” said Hoffman. “I built a mini magnetic rail gun for the transportation, so maybe that helped with the fact that we won it this year.”

Future City challenges students to be engineers

“Future City is designed to provide middle school students with challenges an engineer faces,” said Kutztown Future City advisor of nine years Aaron Ashman, who teaches middle school gifted classes and school enrichment activities.

Ashman explained that the students are taught the engineering design process and work through the challenges of designing their infrastructure from research they conduct on cutting edge science and then projecting that technology 100 years into the future. They prepare deliverables in written, performance, and physical formats — tying into a variety of student interests.

“Winning a special award is rewarding for students to receive recognition for their efforts in a particular aspect of their city,” said Ashman. “This year, winning the most innovative transportation system was particularly special.”

COVID-19 safety measures added challenges this year for students. Some of their meetings needed to be held virtually, making conversations and sharing research slower and more difficult, he said.

“Finding spaces and ways to have students collaborate on building the model without huddling together over a table and sharing supplies, recording and editing their performance because we were unable to perform it live at the competition, and meeting with judges virtually to answer questions about their project all presented additional challenges that took time and adjustments to address,” said Ashman. “The Future City program organizers were conscious of and prepared for these challenges and the students were flexible and creative in meeting them.”

The team consists of 6th graders Will Bray, Mason Erdman, Tomas Hamm and Andrew Neuenschwander; 7th graders Clara Engel, Elliot Johnson, Kat Lauria, Reid Justeson and Hannah Sherrer; and 8th graders ScottAshman, Tucker Hilliard, Lucas Hoffman, Charlie Lauria and David Neuenschwander.

“The Future City team was a group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders of every description that came together, sometimes virtually and sometimes physically, to share and discuss ideas for a very big challenge,” said Ashman.

They collaborated and debated and made decisions. Students contributed their unique strengths to the team — whether that was writing the script or machining parts for the magnetic launch system or creating a model of the lunar colony out of recycled locker locks — to create each aspect the team was required to submit, explained Ashman.

“In addition to an interest in sustainable technology, I hope that students understand the roles of engineers in society and realize that they will have the opportunities to be part of a society that will do things that seem impossible today,” Ashman said.

7th grader Elliot Johnson likes being able to research a question and present it in front of people. He joined Future City “because it is something fun I can do to escape from the world and hang out with friends.”

“It is fun to research the up and coming technology in the world right now,” said 8th grader David Neuenschwander. “It felt great (winning) because not every team won an award, so being recognized for the hard work that we did was nice. We also won this award last year so it is nice to be consistent in our work.”

“I liked that I got to do more stuff after school and I even got to learn some new stuff,” said 6th grader Will Bray who helped in designing the Hermies craft. “I really wanted to do something important within my group.”

6th grader Tomas Hamm enjoyed working on the model of their colony the most. “I feel that our transportation system was the best part of our colony because it was all based on being efficient, that’s why we won the award.”

“It felt good (winning the award), as we tend to spend a lot of time on transportation, hence how we won that award last year as well,” said 7th grader Reid Justeson.

Students met with NASA scientist

In November, the Kutztown Future City team had the opportunity to have a Zoom meeting with Jason Hutt, a NASA scientist working on the Artemis program.

“Mr. Hutt generously listened to their ideas for each aspect of their city and gave them compliments and things to consider,” Ashman said. “Getting to talk with someone developing actual space travel made recognition for their ideas about space travel extra special.”

7th grader Clara Engel said Hutt “really helped us focus our ideas and help give us the push we needed.”

“We worked very hard to come up with the best ideas,” she added.

“In a way of honoring NASA, we decided to name all of our functions (shuttles, the colony, and everything) after Greek gods like NASA has a tendency to do,” said 7th grader Hannah Sherrer. “We used past experience to motivate new recruits to give feedback because they are the fresh perspective on the project.”

In regard to the award, Sherrer said, “It felt good to be noticed for our hard work. Even if we didn't win the competition, it still felt good to be noticed.”

After participating last year, she wanted to compete again because it was really fun.

“I wanted to see my friends, and build an amazing city again with them. I also wanted to try to keep this year as normal as possible, by doing what I would normally do,” she said. “I like that everyone works together to build an entire city together. Even if we don't know each other at the beginning of the program, we are a small community by the end. I made some of my closest friends through Future City.”

“Anyone who has the opportunity to join should defiantly take the chance to learn something new,” Sherrer added.

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