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USGS Helps Middle-School Students Envision a Future City

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excerpt from the satellite imagery Don Woodrow took to Helms Middle School
Above: Excerpt from the satellite imagery Don Woodrow took to Helms Middle School (orange star) on December 12, 2006, when he spoke to the Helms Future City team about geologic hazards in the San Francisco Bay region. Many northwest-trending fault traces are visible in the image. [larger version]
The buildings at Walter T. Helms Middle School in San Pablo, Calif., are badly in need of the replacement scheduled to begin soon, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of students who met with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Don Woodrow after school on a Tuesday last December. The students had formed a team to design and build a model of a future city for the National Engineers Week Future City Competition, and Woodrow had come to talk to them about geologic hazards they should plan for in their design.

Woodrow, who lives in Richmond (just south of San Pablo) and works as a contract geologist at the USGS campus in Menlo Park, Calif., spent an hour and a half at Helms Middle School on December 12, talking to a group of 8th graders about faults, earthquakes, and landslides as hazards that we have to live with and design for in the San Francisco Bay region. He brought a striking 3- by-12-ft mosaic of satellite images, created by USGS geographer Ben Sleeter and USGS geologist Florence Wong, which gave the students a detailed view of the San Francisco Bay region, its cities and highways, and the shape of the land in less developed areas, where northwest-trending traces of the San Andreas and related faults are clearly visible. "The students really got into it," said Woodrow, who has visited Helms Middle School in past years to host a USGS booth at the school's annual career fair, with the help of his wife Carole.

This year's Helms Future City team consisted of five male and six female 8th-grade students. They were sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Future City Program, which is coordinated by Bianca Mallory, and Helms Middle School's After-School Program. Woodrow was one of several professionals who met with the students to provide information that would help them design their future city; some of the others were:

  • Adele Ho, San Pablo's Director of Public Works and city engineer, and Avanindra Gangapuram, the city's Planning Division Manager, who gave the students an overview of city government and advice on city planning and renovation;
  • Eric Havel, Environmental Education Coordinator at Chabot Space and Science Center in the nearby city of Oakland, who gave them a hands-on presentation on fuel cells and other alternative energy sources; and
  • Hassen Beshir, Principle Civil Engineer in Transit System Development at BART, who mentored the students throughout the building of their model.

The Future City competition required participants to design a city of the future (the Helms team chose year 2150) using SimCity software, to build a physical model of the city using recycled materials, to write an abstract describing their city and an essay on energy strategies for powering it, and to give a verbal presentation to a panel of judges.

Guided by Ricardo Rodriguez, a mechanical engineering student at Contra Costa Community College, the Helms team had two opportunities to present their vision of a future city. The first, a "Pre-Competition" event sponsored by BART, was held at Chabot Space and Science Center on Saturday, January 6, 2007. The Helms team participated with teams from 10 schools in Alameda County, presenting their model to a panel of judges consisting of city-government representatives, business people, and civil engineers. The Helms team won the "Best Architecture" award and, like the other teams, received constructive feedback in a closed session with the judges.

Helms Future City team postcard
Above: Helms Future City team (left, larger version) poses at San Pablo City Hall for a photograph that was featured on a postcard (right, larger version) sent to all BART-sponsored schools to advertise the Future City competition and announce the Pre-Competition date.

The second opportunity was the Future City Regional Competition at St. Mary's College in Moraga on Saturday, January 13, when teams from 25 northern California schools came together to compete. The Helms team won 5th place, to the delight of LaZena Jones, director of the school's Helms Community Project and advisor to the students throughout their preparation for the competition. Jones noted that the students "were less excited than I" about their win, having "fully expected to come in 1st place!"

photo of the Helms Middle School team as they construct their model photo of the Helms Middle School team as they construct their model
Above: Members of the Helms Middle School team construct their model of a future city (click on images to view larger versions).

The students' enthusiasm was a particularly satisfying outcome of the competition. Jones said, "One female student informed the team that she would like to attend college and study to become an engineer!" She added, "They are truly a great group of students, who love to learn and experience new things."

For more information about the National Engineers Week Future City Competition, visit URL http://www.futurecity.org/.

Related Web Sites
National Engineers Week Future City Competition
National Engineers Week

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cover story:
Surveying Faults and Sediment Outside San Francisco Bay

Submarine Ground-Water Discharge at Dor Beach, Israel

Outreach Middle-School Students Envision a Future City

Meetings Assessing Microbes in Ground Water

Chinese Delegation Briefed on USGS Science

Restore America's Estuaries Conference

Awards Scuba Scouts Recognize USGS Employees

Publications Estuaries and Coasts Special Issue

March Publications List

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Updated December 02, 2016 @ 12:09 PM (JSS)