• Feb. 8, 2017
    Fort Couch team finishes second at Future City competition

    Future City team A team of Fort Couch Middle School students finished second among a field of 28 teams in the 2017 Pittsburgh Regional Future City Competition held on Jan. 21, 2017, at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. The Fort Couch team’s presentation was led by eighth graders Christian Chiu, Richa Mahajan and Sophia Shi.

    In addition to second place, the Fort Couch team earned three special awards including Excellence in Systems Integration, given by Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania; Best Management of Water Resources, from AECOM; and 17-Year Anniversary School, presented by ESWP and Carnegie Science Center.

    Future City is a national, project-based learning experience where students in grades 6, 7 and 8 imagine, design and build cities of the future that offer solutions to sustainability issues. Previous issues included storm water management, urban agriculture and green energy. This year’s challenge focused on “The Power of Public Space.”

    A team of more than 35 Fort Couch gifted students worked throughout the fall to transform the current city of Manila into Magbahagi (Filipino for sharing), existing 100 years in the future.

    “Magbahagi includes a wide array of public spaces and incorporates innovative technologies throughout the design,” Jason O’Roark, gifted education teacher, said. “Straddling buses travel the streets as cars pass under them, vertical and off shore hydro-pod farms feed the city, an aqua tower cleans the river while providing hydroelectric power, and a clear ceramic dome provides a multi-use shelter and public space that helps protect from frequent hurricanes are just some of the many aspects incorporated into the city.”

    Students presented their solutions via a virtual city design, using SimCity; a 1,500-word essay that describes their city; a scale model; a project plan; and a presentation to judges.

    “At competition, when our students were asked what they found to be most challenging, they said it was working together productively when working with such a large group of students with significantly varying ideas and opinions; learning to listen to each others' ideas, treat each other respectfully, compromise, and at times combine various ideas to create the best solution to meet the challenge,” Connie Gibson, gifted education teacher, said.

    The Fort Couch team finished second to St. Bede School, which will represent the Pittsburgh region at the National Finals this February in Washington, D.C.

    Many former Upper St. Clair Future City alumni have continued on into engineering fields, including Michelle Szucs, a 2010 USC graduate, who was honored at the 2017 competition as the Future City Alumni of the Year, and Brian Gaudio, a 2009 USC graduate and CEO of housing startup company Module.

    “Researching existing technology, thinking toward the future, writing a technically persuasive essay, communicating with expert mentors, channeling creativity to bring an idea to life, and capping off the months of hard, collaborative work by standing on stage presenting to a large audience – these were just some of the valuable experiences I gained from participating in Future City,” Ms. Szucs said. “I continue to employ these lessons in my work today as I team up with engineers from a wide variety of backgrounds to develop products that push boundaries and demonstrate value to our customers.

    Ms. Szucs, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from MIT, credits her experiences with the Future City competition in developing relevant, real-world skills for success.

    “The ability to analyze a problem, propose solutions, seek consensus, and confidently market your work is necessary to succeed in any field,” she said. ”Future City has done a truly amazing job of packaging all these skills into a hands-on learning opportunity that is engaging, rewarding, and – above all – incredibly fun!”

    Mr. Gaudio, who participated in Future City as an eighth grader, now designs innovative housing and recently hosted a preview screening of his documentary "Within Formal Cities" locally. He made time to speak with Fort Couch students and to share his documentary.

    “Brian and a friend traveled to five cities in South America to learn about innovative ways architects were solving the housing crisis,” Mrs. Gibson said. “Creating this documentary was his inspiration to start his company, Module, which continues his interest in innovative and futuristic design within cities.”

    Mr. Gaudio’s work focuses on modular housing, which is designed to expand over time via a patent-pending structural system.

    “Brian’s belief that everyone deserves access to good design, prompted his modular design for incremental housing, where a house can grow with its owner, as needs and financial resources change over time,” Mrs. Gibson said. “When asked, ‘Do you remember Future City?,” he responded enthusiastically, ‘I sure do, and look what I'm doing now -- the real thing!’”

    Fort Couch Middle School students benefited greatly from having access to an Upper St. Clair alumnus with experience in design, engineering and the Future City competition.

    “This year's future city team, with their prompt of ‘The Power of Public Space,’ being able to turn to a former Future City participant for research purposes, was especially inspiring,” Mrs. Gibson said.

    Photo: Christian Chiu, Harrison Chui, Kathy Li, Richa Mahajan, Sophia Shi, and Erin Payne