(WASHINGTON) — Meet Michigan middle school brainaics Abbi Dayton, Emma Scharfenberg, Leah Schroeder and Emily Abramczyk: their team placed first nationally Tuesday after spending over 200 hours since last fall designing a futuristic city.
Theirs was just one team out of 37 regions, including a region from China, which competed in the largest middle school engineering contest, the annual Future City Competition.
Over a weekend-long series of competitive events that brought 400 excited middle schoolers and their families to Washington, D.C., the teams that made an earlier preliminary cut were whittled down to five finalists.
On Tuesday the top groups went head-to-head in front of a panel of judges made up of professionals specializing in different facets of urban agricultural planning, including Sam Kass, the former senior White House policy nutrition policy director and executive director of Let’s Move.
The students designed their virtual cities using SimCity software and then built small-scale models. The girls decided to create their fictional futuristic metropolis in Haiti that they called “Lekol-la-fre” with a Mardi Gras color scheme.
“We wanted to show what urban agricultural could do to a devastated country,” said Schroeder.
Forced to use only recycled materials for their city models, the girls had to get creative, using unconventional items like lipstick tubes and SIM cards from old cellphones.
The young girls were not expecting to get the first-place trophy, and winning left them “speechless” and with “happy shock.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Abramczyk said. “I can’t believe we actually won.”
As winners, the students will receive a coveted trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, along with $7,500 for their school’s STEM program.
The girls from Michigan’s St. John Lutheran School, the school that also took home the first-prize win in the competition last year, were excited to experience the camp, even if space exploration fell outside their area of interest.
“I’ve never been into this space stuff but I am excited to see what’s going to happen,” said Schroeder.
“I love space,” Dayton added excitedly.
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