We built this city

By on February 27, 2019

Some people might think that 13 is an unlucky number. The Future City team from Warwick Middle School would disagree.

It was the 13th time that teacher and advisor Michael Smith’s team of seventh and eighth graders participated in the annual Future City engineering competition, and the eighth time they had made it to the National Future City competition in Washington, D.C., which was held Feb.16 through 19.

For the first time ever, the team of 25 students took home the Grand Prize among 47 teams from all over the United States, Canada, and China.

“It seemed kind of surreal to me when they announced it. I still don’t think it has fully registered with me yet,” said Xavier Flaiz, 14, a Warwick Middle School eighth grader. For 13-year-old Grace Kegel, her enthusiasm was clear. She screamed with joy when the Warwick Middle School was named as Grand Prize winner in the 2019 Future City Competition, marking the 27th year of the prestigious international program.

The winning team! Shown with two Future City officials are (front row, left to right) Zoe Buchanan, Maggie Turner, Joseph Conrad, Christian Kegel; (back, l-r) Elena Smith, Michael Smith, Grace Kegel, Robert Kegel, Lauren Matt, Xavier Flaiz, Nathan Wenger, Jonah Ahlers, Liam Zee, Carter Hain, Marin Davis, and Connor Henry.

Lauren Matt, 14, was outwardly a little more low-key about the team’s unprecedented victory, but admitted that when she realized the team had won, her heart was pounding. Flaiz, Kegel, and Matt were the three student presenters at the competition representing their team of 25. They had good reason to be jubilant.

“I am not sure everyone realizes what a big deal this is,” said Smith, who was beaming with pride at his students’ accomplishments. “This is an international competition among some of the best minds in middle schools all over the world. These kids are incredible.”

The team included Warwick Middle School students Matthew Bacon, Joseph Conrad, Carter Hain, Connor Henry, Paige Misavage, Ivan Tejeda, Liam Zee, Jonah Ahlers, Olivia Boland, Zoe Buchanan, Kyle Charles, Ben Cosmore, Marin Davis, Carolyn Eisenbach, Nate Hovan, Thomas Jeanes, Caden Lausch, Elena Smith, Aiden Troop, Rebekah Trovinger, Maggie Turner and Nate Wenger. Christian Kegel, 15, was volunteer mentor to the team. When he was in middle school, he participated in the Future City competition. His younger sister, Grace, was one of the presenters.

Over the years, since Warwick started participating in the Future City competition, the number of girls has increased. The teams used to be mostly boys, but now in 2019, the team is about 50/50 boys and girls.

Warwick’s Future City — Toyama, Japan — has miniature cherry blossom trees, and with layered decentralized optimization architecture, underground power, and water management infrastructure.

“I think more girls are becoming interested in the sciences and want to pursue careers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math),” said Matt.

Even though she is just 14, she has set her sights on a career as an astrophysicist, with dreams of attending Cornell University. Flaiz is also planning on a career in the sciences. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he hopes to be a biochemist, engineer, or be in the medical field. It wouldn’t surprise his teacher if he did all three.

Kegel is also interested in working in the STEM fields, possibly going into civil engineering. Then she hopes to serve in the United Nations, and has even higher aspirations after that.

“I want to be President of the United States,” said Kegel, adding that she has already done the math and will be eligible to run in 2040.

Somehow it seems quite possible.

Kegel explained that the Future City project combined the skills and talents of all the team members. There were students on the tech team, who took a more logical, scientific approach to engineering a Future City. Other students were on the design team, who made the project look good and show a realistic view of the Future City. They painted the real-life Tateyama mountains and added flowering cherry trees, botanical gardens, greenhouses and high tech buildings.

It was a real city too.

The team was tasked with designing a city of the future, with the mission to design a resilient power grid that could withstand a natural disaster. They chose the city of Toyama in Japan, which has been prone to extreme flooding over the years.

Grace Kegel, Lauren Matt, and Xavier Flaiz of the Warwick Middle School Future City team, hoist their grand prize trophy high.

They were able to contact Toyama’s chief resiliency officer, Dr. Joseph Runzo-Inada, who provided insights into the challenges facing the city. Students also had an opportunity to video conference with Dr. Inada and other city planners, as they worked out their plan for Toyama as a Future City.

Warwick’s team developed a concept for protecting the power grid from Toyama’s historical flooding with layered decentralized optimization architecture, underground power, and water management infrastructure.

In case you don’t know what that means, you’ll have to ask one of the Future City students to explain it to you. They will be presenting their display and detailing the plan at an upcoming Warwick School Board meeting.

“We are so proud of these students,” said Warwick superintendent April Hershey when the news was announced on Feb. 19.

Over the past six months, more than 40,000 middle school students from 1,500 schools in 41 U.S. regions, as well as teams from Canada and China, have imagined, designed and built cities for the 2019 Future City Competition. This year’s theme was Powering Our Future, and focused on innovative ways to power their future city to withstand and quickly recover from the impacts of a natural disaster.

Along with the Grand Prize trophy, the Warwick Middle School team earns a trip to U.S. Space Camp and $7,500 for its school’s STEM program, provided by sponsor Bentley Systems, Inc.

The Future City Competition is a project-based learning experience where students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades imagine, research, design, and build cities of the future, as they address the authentic, real-world question of “How can we make the world a better place?”

Warwick Middle School’s winning Future City team earned their own place on a very lucky 13th try at reaching their goal as international champions.

“We are beyond thrilled,” said Smith.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com. 

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