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Urban Engineers' 25-Year Journey Inspiring Future Innovators in the Future City Competition
Publication Date
February 19th 2024

Igniting Curiosity

Embracing STEM education from a young age lays a crucial foundation for student academic growth and future success. STEM learning goes beyond textbooks, creating a hands-on, experimental approach that sparks curiosity and creativity. Through STEM activities, students not only develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills but a passion for exploration and discovery as well.


For more than three decades, the Future City Competition has supported STEM education, providing students with an engaging and interactive learning experience by asking the question: how can we make the world a better place?


Designing Tomorrow's Cities

The Future City Competition offers students a chance to explore engineering design and the project management process by creating scaled models of sustainable cities. With over 60,000 participants from 1,800 schools across 38 U.S. regions, the annual competition engages 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students in learning theoretical concepts and applying them to design and build their future city models.


Students from middle schools and after-school programs form teams and work to design and build their cities from September through January in collaboration with a teacher and engineer mentor. Regional competitions take place in January, determining which teams will advance to the National Competition held in February.


For 2024, the competition focused on designing a 100% electrically powered city with energy generated from sources that keep citizens and the environment healthy and safe. Traditional power plants rely heavily on burning fossil fuels and contribute over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, significantly accelerating global warming and climate change. Given the increasing demands on the energy grid, there's a widely accepted scientific view that finding clean and renewable energy sources is crucial.


One team Urban mentored in this year's competition, the St. Andrew Newtown Future City team, creatively selected the existing Philadelphia International Airport site for their Future City project. The concept centered around the future use of vertical lift technology for aircraft, requiring less space for takeoff and landing. This innovation allowed the repurposing of riverfront land into commercial and residential areas, fostering economic growth and providing housing and employment opportunities for previously marginalized communities.


Aligned with the competition's theme, "Electrify Your Future," the team envisioned a city set 100 years in the future, powered entirely by electricity from environmentally friendly sources. By eliminating reliance on fossil fuels, the city aimed to address historical pollution issues and preserve natural habitats and wildlife. The project also factored in potential hazards associated with climate change, demonstrating a comprehensive approach to creating a sustainable and resilient future city.


This year’s winner of the Philadelphia Regional Future City Competition, Lionville Middle School, is moving on to the national finals, held this February in Washington, DC. There, they have a chance to win a $7,500 prize for their school's STEM program. While the overall winner is a single team, various sponsors, including Urban Engineers, present special awards in different categories during the competition. As a sponsor, Urban Engineers awards the “Best Transportation Design Award” to recognize excellence in this competition aspect.


“Witnessing the enthusiasm and creativity of students in the competition is truly inspiring,” said Jennifer Wetzel, Future City Regional Coordinator for Greater Philadelphia. “Their innovative solutions to real-world challenges showcase the power of STEM education. The competition not only fosters a passion for science and engineering but also instills a sense of community and collaboration among participants. I have volunteered with this organization for over 25 years, and the dedication of the students, educators, and volunteers still motivates me.  It's been fabulous working with Urban Engineers and the wonderful organizations that come together each year to empower the next generation of problem solvers.”


2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Winners Lionville Middle School

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region Winners Lionville Middle School

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

Empowering Tomorrow's Leaders

At the core of the competition lies a fundamental mission: to make STEM education more accessible and inclusive. Through thoughtful strategies, the competition encourages students from diverse backgrounds, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their school's resources, can participate with equal access to needed materials. The program is made possible through the generous financial sponsorships of outside organizations, including Urban Engineers.

Future City stands out by addressing a wide range of societal issues and urban planning topics, from sustainable energy to industry, transportation, agriculture, and environmental well-being. The competition is committed to breaking down barriers and promoting inclusivity in STEM education. Future City strives to create a more inclusive future within STEM professions.


Mentoring the Next Generation

Urban Engineers’ involvement in the Future City Competition spans more than 25 years. Recognizing the importance of creating an environment where young minds can explore, learn, and develop a passion for science and engineering, we seek to inspire and support the next generation of engineers and innovators.

Year after year, our team actively participates in diverse volunteer roles, such as mentoring, judging, and supporting marketing and communications. Twelve passionate Urban employees invested their time and expertise in the 2024 Philadelphia Region competition. Leading the charge is Mike McAtee, PE, Vice President and National Practice Leader for Bridges at Urban. He has dedicated 20 years to volunteering and serves as the mentor coordinator on the Future City Competition Steering Committee.


“I got involved in the Future City Competition 20 years ago because I could appreciate that the program introduces careers in engineering and planning to middle school students. I am fortunate to have had a father who was an engineer, and I had the opportunity to see the type of work that engineers do while growing up. I can appreciate now how impactful that was on my decision to study engineering in college. Without that exposure, I doubt I would have pursued a career in this field,” said Mike. “The Future City program is a way to show students some of the great topics engineers get involved with and how they can help make the world a better place. So, in a few years, when the students decide what to study at college and what they want to do for the rest of their lives, they’ll remember all the exciting opportunities available in STEM careers.”


Danielle Baer, AICP, Planner at Urban, volunteered to judge the 2024 competition. “Volunteering for Future City has made me excited and hopeful about the future of our industry. I really enjoyed speaking with the students about their zoning decisions and how they represented the three required zoning districts. Each school had a unique take on how to organize their cities. I'm a firm believer that students should be exposed to Planning concepts at a young age, and I'm grateful that Future City has provided the platform to teach about planning in a fun and engaging way.”


Madelyn Marquardt, Engineer in Training at Urban, said, “I decided to become involved in the Future City Competition as a mentor because I recognized the impact that similar programs had on me growing up. I also wanted to show young female students that there is a place for them in engineering and encourage them to continue to explore what interests them. Even if the students don't pursue a related career, I hope I helped to create a space where they could share their ideas and feel supported.”


Inspire, Educate, Empower

The Future City Competition requests your help, allowing you to empower the next generation of engineers. Your involvement is an investment in their future and a contribution to the industry. Share your passion and become a mentor for the 2025 competition. Visit the Future City Competition website here.


Engineering firms can support STEM education through the Future City Competition and address the industry's demand for a diverse, well-educated workforce by becoming a sponsor today.


Future City is a program of DiscoverE, a nonprofit organization comprised of professionals from a coalition of nationwide engineering, science, and technological corporations and professional societies.


Thank you to Urban Engineers’ 2024 Competition Volunteers:

  • Future City Competition Steering Committee Mentor Coordinator:
    • Michael McAtee, PE
  • Mentors:
    • Dawn Dayawon, PE
    • Madelyn Marquardt, EIT
    • Rose Rinker, PE
    • Adam Brown, PE
  • Volunteers/Judges:
    • Dan Hutton, AICP, PP, RSP₁
    • Danielle Baer, AICP
    • Patrick Edwards, EIT
    • Tim Dunn, PE
  • Program Design:
    • Charlotte Hinton
    • Jess Weinstein  

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region

2024 Future City Competition Philadelphia Region